This is Devil’s Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale. The story goes that the townsfolk made a pact with the devil that if he built them a bridge over the river, he could have the soul of the first person who crossed the bridge. When the bridge was completed, a canny old lady sent her dog across the bridge and the devil had to be satisfied with the animal’s soul. Now, putting the old woman’s callous attitude towards her dog to one side, this suggests both an impotent devil and also one rather lacking an eye for legal detail.
Away from the stuff of legend, though, the real devils in our society are those large organisations (and governments) that lack a moral compass. Often, profit is the end the justifies the means and over the last few years, this seems to have come to affect charities. Of course, this isn’t a completely new thing. A young and very broke Jeffrey Archer became wealthy overnight after his first charity event – for which he took a 10% organiser’s fee – raised four million pounds. His justification was that the charity made a whole load of money it wouldn’t have had otherwise and his percentage was an incentive to raise as much as possible.
It’s a seductive argument, isn’t it? And an amoral one. Now companies have sprung up that will hassle you on the street, collecting money for charities in return for 30% of the takings. I went passed a chap last year, collecting for Save The Children, who tried to intercept me and I told him, politely, that I wasn’t interested. As I walked away he said “Not all kids are as lucky as yours, mate”. I found this pretty offensive. Not because it wasn’t true but because he was using guilt as a weapon. Not because he cared about the children – he wasn’t working as a volunteer for Save The Children – but because he wanted to make a “sale”.
Last week, someone knocked on my door collecting for, I think, Cancer Research. I explained that I already gave to some charities and I didn’t feel able to give any more plus that, if I did, I would donate directly to the charity and not sign up on the doorstep. This time I was treated to a shake of the head.
Even this practice of seeking you out in your own home is not quite as invasive as Christian Aid’s policy of ringing up existing donors to ask them to give a bit more. I’m not by nature someone who gets angry but I wanted to snatch the ‘phone off my wife when I heard her listing her monthly expenditure to justify why shouldn’t couldn’t give more. (Incidentally, this practice was defended by Christian Aid, saying it wasn’t actually them who make the calls, which is cowardly.)
And, finally, today, I saw an advert for Help For Heroes, which appeared to have a mocked up stamp on it saying “Charity of the Year”. Having googled once I got home, this appears to be a project to get companies to adopt a certain charity as the recipient for their donations for the year. The way it looked on the advert implied (or, at least, I inferred) that Help For Heroes was THE charity of the year, like it had won an award.
I think a mistake is being made here. Charities are being seduced by short term gain, by focussing purely on the target of raising money. Now, OBVIOUSLY that is what charities are for. But that doesn’t mean they should do anything to raise money. I run a company and sales are massively important to us, they are the lifeblood of our business and I’ve been approached frequently by companies offering to generate leads for us, on a commission basis. It’s very tempting, especially when times were tough.
However, I care too much about my business, about how we approach and engage with people, to let someone do that on our behalf. Save The Children for me – someone who cares a lot about children – is now associated with the young man who tried to make me feel bad so he could make a sale. That’s not intellectual, that’s just my emotional response. But intellectually, I hold them in low regard for allowing an amoral third party company to take a cut of the money that well-meaning people want to give to help children.
I don’t know what the answer is, except to say don’t deal with the devil, don’t be lazy. You are doing good work but you need to work at it.