“Charity is a cold, grey, loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at whim.”
Clement Attlee wrote this statement in 1920, and a century on it remains a relevant reflection on our attitude as a society towards charity. I believe that, in general, our society is one of impulsive donators.
We will support causes close to our heart, or text in to donate to charities promoted by tearful-celebrity-narrated clips, interspersed throughout fundraising events such as BBC Children in Need. When presented with the cause and pushed in the direction to donate, many people will do so. However, we will very rarely take the initiative to independently research – or even internally consider – the best line of action to help these causes. In my opinion, this is the most perilous shortcoming in the public’s attitude towards charity.
What brought this into focus was the dramatic increase in interest towards the Yemen crisis I have seen recently amongst peers. With COVID-19 having exacerbated the suffering in Yemen, every day now I see new infographics on friends’ social media accounts, and often attached to these are links to charities to support. However, I have noticed that the vast majority of these suggested charities are general global organisations – such as UNICEF or Save the Children – rather than Yemeni driven organisations local to the crisis.
The crisis in Yemen began with its political revolution in 2011, and a humanitarian crisis was first declared when the Yemen civil war began in 2015. Therefore, I found it hard to believe that there are almost no charitable operations targeted specifically at the crisis. A quick google search showed me that there were, if you were willing to look beyond the Google advertisements from larger charities.
It is my belief that if we took a little more time to consider the motivations and impact of our donation, we would realise that donating to grassroots, locally run and targeted charities is endlessly more beneficial.
No matter how good the work they do, there is no avoiding the fact that global charities resemble major corporations. The scale on which they operate means large overhead costs will be inevitable. Furthermore, often they will have a chief executive with an incredibly substantial pay check (Inger Ashling’s, CEO of Save the Children International, annual salary approached £200,000 last year). UNICEF claim that 70p from each £1 donation goes to help those affected: this is one of the highest proportions amongst global charities. Smaller and local charities are often far more volunteer-led, and have far less administration expenses. By giving to them, more of your money goes directly to the people who you donated for.
In addition to this, grassroots charities do not contain the bureaucracy that large-scale charities do, which so often delays and complicates the path of your donation. Giving to smaller charities, especially ones local to the crisis, often means your donation will have a faster impact. Ultimately, whilst charity is something you can just throw money at, to do so would be wildly inefficient.
To support local-led charities is also a more sustainable practice. I commend the relief work done by groups of the likes of UNICEF and the Red Cross, but it is not difficult to see that these are very temporary actions. They are not solutions and do nothing to delve into the real causes of the suffering. Donating to these will help sufferers to survive, and clean up in the aftermath. Donating to groups led by citizens of the affected area will do these, plus help rebuild community and give people their lives back.
Doing the research and critical thinking will also forces us to inspect the real roots of the problem. Equipped with the information, we can decide what course of action will help the most. This will give us a better understanding and overview of the particular crisis: we will be able to empathise with victims, rather than just sympathise.
Charitable giving should be second nature, but that doesn’t mean that it should be thoughtless. Therefore, whilst I encourage you (if you can) to continue to make these spontaneous donations, I implore you to simultaneously consider and research the organisations most worth donating to. A rational and researched approach, rather than an impulsive one, will maximise the impact of your donation.
To help provide relief to victims in Yemen:
Mona Relief is a group of Yemeni volunteers, who use funds to buy food and create parcels they distribute to those in need.
Saba Relief is a UK charity but they focus exclusively on Yemen. They have volunteers on the ground in Yemen able to distribute food, unlike charities such as UNICEF who are met by the blockade.
To help address the root of the crisis:
Mwatana is an independent Yemeni organisation fighting to defend human rights by documenting and raising awareness of human rights violations in the country.
Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation is a US charity, based in Washington. It is volunteer led so 100% of donations go to victims of the crisis. The charity is anti-war – it campaigns against the US’ involvement with Saudi Arabia – and so goes further than delivering aid to inspecting the causes.
Words by Isabella Ward