The somewhat ruthless pressure applied to potential donors has been in the UK news for a while now, but continues. There have been reports of older persons made ill, or at least impoverished, by uncaring requests for donations, playing on their old-school willingness to support a good cause and their vulnerability to heart-rending or guilt-inducing commercial sales tactics, all aimed at tying them into open-ended monthly payments.
There was one case that hit the news recently, where this kind of relentless pressure led to a person's actual death. It's very easy to miss opt-out tickboxes when signing up to a regular contribution, and this inevitably leads to one's name, phone number and address being sold to other charities, and eventually receiving requests for cash from those as well. Not every victim can resist.
Most people will occasionally support a good cause with a one-off donation - I do. But securing bank details and that vital monthly direct debit payment is the thing most wanted. It makes the income stream reliable and predictable, and the typical big national charity can then embark on sustained long-term projects instead of temporary fixes. It's worth their while to engage intermediaries with fund-raising expertise. These intermediaries are paid to pester and persuade the public to donate. It's led of course to reports that the target-driven head staff of such charities - and of the intermediaries hired to do the footwork and make the phone calls - have been paid whopping salaries for their ability to get the desired results. It isn't an inspiring thought, that one's donation might merely have paid for someone's performance bonus - and not for a malnourished family's survival in Africa.
And yet the big national charities found responsible for fund-raising by questionable methods will justly point out that charitable work has never been so important. In all the wide world, the list of people needing help is endless, and likely to get longer.
Closer to home are smaller charities that want your money too. How do you prioritise your giving impulse? Which comes first? Medical research? Children in need? Ill-treated animals? Environmental warrior groups? Adults with impaired abilities who need care? The homeless? Personally I'd put the needs of Asian earthquake disaster victims before the needs of discarded cats and dogs, retired donkeys, or wounded seals; but I'd have difficulty justifying that to an animal lover.
In the end, I think many people polarise on two distinct courses.
One is to support as many charities as they can, responding to nearly every appeal, even if it affects their standard of living. I doubt if anyone does this if they have a family to care for and put first; but some people living alone - older persons in the main - who may have limited social lives, and spare cash not immediately required, might feel it their proper duty to give away a lot of money.
The other course is to resolutely not respond to any appeal, unless escape is unavoidable. We all know how eyes are averted from local charity volunteers standing outside supermarkets on freezing mornings. They represent some good causes too; and these people are giving up their time, making a personal effort, and risk catching a cold. It seems mean not to drop in a pound coin. I confess to 'not noticing' as often as anyone else, but sometimes I feel so sorry for the volunteer, so aware of what a thankless task it is to collect money in this way, that I drop in a coin or two and have a quick cheerful word. But 'sometimes' is not very often.
So hand on heart now. How much do I give each year?
Well, nothing at all in response to mass TV appeals. And I have no direct debits. My standard donation to people on the street - a variety of medical or children-orientated charities - is £1 or £2, but that's maybe just once a month: let's say only £15 a year. I occasionally donate tins to the local Food Bank: say another £15-worth a year. I support the local windmill restoration group to the tune of £5 annually. I will always pop £1 or £2 in the slot if I visit a Lifeboat station when on holiday - another £5 for the year. My biggest donations are made indirectly, by sponsoring people doing things for a specified charity. This summer my cleaner Theresa took part in an All-Night Women's Walk. My step-daughter A--- in New Zealand is currently doing 10,000 steps a day for a month. Next month my electrolysist Sarah is walking a hilly section of the Great Wall of China. These are all gruelling activities for the people doing them, the charities are good ones, and I have a personal connection; so naturally I have responded. But I haven't gone over the top. I've pledged a modest total of £40 on these three events.
So altogether that's about £75 for 2015 in one-off donations. Is it average, or distinctly on the mean side for someone in my position? Most certainly, £75 per annum is far lower than the big national charities would like see.
I heard on the radio the other day that somebody had suggested that everyone in the affluent West could donate one-third of their income to the rest of the world's population, and still remain a lot better off than the world average. I dare say that's true. And yet it won't happen. It's a world full of good intentions, but also a world full of inertia, protectionism, and deliberate blindness. The haves are going to keep what they possess at almost any cost. Hence the resistance to being open-handed and welcoming towards refugees. I expect to see Food Wars before I die. And they won't be averted simply by stepping up my own personal donations.
It all needs radical action by a global body. What on earth is the UN doing about these world problems? I think that organisation urgently needs an entirely fresh mandate to plan solutions and enforce them.