The number of calls on our compassion just beggars belief

 

When it comes to the subject of giving to charity I’m in two minds. It’s something I’m happy to do … when I’m ready and when I’m not feeling pestered. However, there are times I get irked by the way some charities conduct themselves nowadays.

Charities are run more along business lines now. Some might think that that’s a natural and welcome progression. I’m not sure I agree.

Since its first publication this magazine has supported various charities under my stewardship and that of other owners. I hope you will feel this is laudable.

REm was one of the initial sponsors of the Movers & Shakers networking events that had such an impact a few years ago on the back of a great idea from Cees Cuijpers of the Re/Max Town & Country estate agents (or plain old Town & Country as it was then).

More recently the magazine has supported TFi (the Thai Farang Initiative) with its motto of “fun events for charity”. TFi, like many other local charities, seems to put special effort into helping kids. You would have to be fairly hard-hearted not to applaud that.

So, what is my (very personal) gripe?

What is it about some (not all) money-raising practices of charities that bother me?

I guess the word that best sums it up is – pressure. Modern cash-raising makes me feel pressurised and I don’t much care for it.

In the UK today, it’s too much “in your face”.

You can’t walk down a high street without some friendly chap or lady approaching you in a bid to discuss the charity they are representing. In fairness, if you indicate that you prefer not to be bothered they spin away without giving you too much of a guilt trip.

The other day I found myself walking from the rail station to the main shopping area of Leicester – you know, that place where football champions used to hang out. I strolled past a group of fund-raisers for the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) charity which I have always held in high regard.

 

 

I was approached by one of them with the cheery greeting: “Hi, where did you get that (very orange) polo shirt?” I kept walking muttering “I am sorry, I’m in a hurry”. It was not strictly true. I was in a hurry to get away from him.

I thought no more about it until I was travelling back to the station when different a NSPCC representative – a lady this time – came up to me asking where I had bought my polo shirt. This was obviously a standard opening line intended to get you chatting. This time I replied: “Thailand!” This was not a reply the lady was expecting and seemed to throw her – a bit of a conversation killer.

I would be more amenable to being approached if I thought the people actually “cared” about the charity they are representing. But I’m fairly confident that it’s a case of NSPCC one week, RSPCA (cruelty to animals) the next. It’s a commission-paying job, not a “calling”.

I apologise if it seems I am picking on the NSPCC. It’s not just them, it’s just about every charity under the sun. If they don’t grab your attention on the high street, they will find other ways.

I’ve started recording my favourite TV shows even if I am sitting in front of the box when the programme comes on.

Why?

I hate watching the ads and I can’t take much more of the bombardment of charity appeals among them. Recording the programme allows me to fast-forward and avoid the calls on my limited cash.

Does this equate to my being mean and tight-fisted?

Well, I hope not. But I’ll probably have to leave that to others to judge.

The other day I didn’t follow my “record it and watch it later” plan. In just one TV break I was asked to help give clean water to kids in Africa, leave a gift in my will to fund research into cancer, alleviate the suffering of donkeys and sponsor a guide dog for the blind.

These are all worthy causes, I sincerely believe that. But, frankly, I’m suffering from compassion overload.

In the past I have contributed to Guide Dogs for the Blind. But I did it by buying a recording of cricket commentator Brian Johnson corpsing on a radio commentary (this was before the internet where you can listen to it for free). Johnson couldn’t stop laughing after fellow commentator Jonathan Agnew remarked that Ian Botham had failed to get his leg over (the wicket) in a dismissal. It’s great fun, do give it a listen!

I wanted to own this classic piece of commentary; the donation to the guide dogs was a pleasant sidebar. Several requests for further aid followed which I would have preferred not to receive.

 

 

Now, of course, I have been referring to British TV. I can’t comment of what happens on Thai TV, which, I dare say, expats are not in a rush to watch. If they did, they would probably be in favour of founding an SBM (Stop Bullying Midgets) charity.

When I first visited Pattaya back in 1978 the number of beggars on the street was noticeable. Mothers cradling wailing children, kids with some type of deformity, dismembered old men dragging themselves along the floor were all very common. To a lesser degree that is still the case today though, thankfully, the deformities seem much fewer – in my perception.

Back in the late ’70s the story was going the rounds that some of these deformities had been deliberately created by parents to pull at the heartstrings of caring people. I do hope that the tales were purely apocryphal but, after hearing it repeated many times, you do start to wonder.

On-street beggars seem to be on the increase here in the UK. It’s becoming the rule rather than the exception that someone tries to tap me up when I’m out and about.

One fund-seeker I have met a couple of times has each time asked for a very specific amount – 60p (about Bt25). He says he needs it to make a phone call. I have considered saying: “If you can find me a phone box where you can spend this money, I’ll give it to you.” I think my small sum would be fairly safe as I can’t remember the last time I saw a working phone box.

YouTube shows several films of beggars getting into top-of-the range cars after a hard day spent with their hand out. I would confess that such incidents do harden my heart just a tad.

Before I sign off I should own up to the fact that some years back I was guilty of letting down a charity.

I was keen to lose weight but felt I needed an extra incentive (other than just being good for my health) to do so. So, I came up with the idea of asking friends to sponsor me for a set sum for every pound lost. The money would go to a charity for the care of the children of construction workers.

It proved to be a disaster. In fact, I think I gained weight. I feel bad about this to this day. With hindsight one of the things I regret most – apart, of course, from not helping the kids – was that I had perhaps been guilty of “pressurising” friends into sponsoring me.

I don’t care to be on the receiving end of such pressure so, really, I should not have exerted it myself.

 

 

Regrets? I’ve had a few – as Sinatra once sang.

 

By Dave Buckley