“Do you have a moment to talk about Amnesty International?” A very polite and somewhat attractive young man addressed me outside my supermarket. His little table was covered in pictures of Malala with a single tattered laminated leaflet on top.
That day, I really didn’t. I had a very small window of time to get my grocery shopping done before I had a series of appointments and commitments. I said as much and offered a simple cash donation. “We’re not taking donations today, we’re just taking registrations” he told me. I was a bit baffled, so I asked for clarification. He went into his spiel telling me about how they have a direct debit system and their minimum fee was $6 per week - the equivalent of only blah di blah.
Sorry lad, sorry Amnesty International, you lost me at the words “minimum fee”.
It’s not new though. Over 20 years ago when I was a poor, struggling beneficiary, a collector for Greenpeace knocked on the door to my flat asking for donations. At the time, my total income was $97 per week. Out of that came my share of the rent, the phone and power, and the groceries. I was still happy to give this young man some of my change - maybe $3 or $4. “Oh no,” said this man, “Our minimum donation is $20”. He left with nothing and I’ve never made another donation to Greenpeace.
I was a bit angered when Campbell Live did a piece on St Johns Ambulance. John Campbell explained about how they survive purely on donations. I looked from the tv to the tax invoice and threats of debt collection that I had from St John’s for the third ambulance call out I had last year. I’d already paid for the first two ambulances at $84 each, but I was struggling with the third. They were life-saving call outs too - not something minor or time wasters. I don’t begrudge them the money, they save lives and do a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances. But this was quite a misrepresentation. How is payment for services surviving on donations?
Now I accept that some of this may be that I have some Oppositional Defiant issues - my husband certainly complains that I don’t do what I’m told - but I’m sure I’m not the only one who tends to object to this. A donation to a charity is supposed to be a voluntary offering of what I am able to spare, isn’t it?
At what point does a charity become a business? I was sure it has something to do with profit and non-profit. But as I have a business that has yet to make a profit and profits are not our focus, doesn’t that blur that line already? Benefiting the wider community? There are other non-profit organisations that benefit the wider community (TimeBanking is an immediate example for me) that don’t count as charities. Giving goods or services away to those in need with no expectation of return was a suggestion from my husband. Surely the $252 in total I was invoiced by St John’s ambulance made that argument invalid. I’m also aware of a religious group in New Zealand, a group of maybe 5 people at the most that have registered as a charity and are constantly asking for donations, but I have yet to see what they are doing for the community around them to qualify as a charity. In case you’re wondering, they’ve been registered for at least 5 years.
I’m saddened by all of this. I think all these charities do some wonderful work. However, whatever small amount I have to spare I will share where I please, when I please. And it will be a donation, not a weekly fee.