Charity and its demise

(Picture – a family of children and their mother in The Gambia)

I was surprised to read recently that the “Harper” Government has decreed that the prevention of poverty is no longer an acceptable goal for charities in this country.  Their rationale is that people who are not poor might benefit. 

One international organization in order to retain its charitable status in Canada had to eliminate “prevention of poverty” from its mission statement and only retain its other cause of alleviating poverty.

Another article suggested that Canada’s restrictive rules make it impossible for donors to contribute to charities overseas or support international charitable causes.

The government has been in haste to stymie charities, NGOs and other volunteer organizations from criticizing its policies, protesting its environmental neglect and engaging in other perceived political activities.

It appears the baby is being thrown out with the bath water by making it more difficult for aid to be provided, legitimate charities to perform good work and new and fresher organizations to be established.

Many of the large Canadian and International development organizations have become like other large institutions in the world: unwieldy, bureaucratic, and corrupted. These institutions appear intent on fixing the world, not supporting the poor.

But the need for aid and support is greater than ever.  Poverty and the poor are still amongst us.  Even in Canada, the US and Europe there are growing numbers of homeless and hungry people depending on shelters and food banks to survive.

Despite the optimism and skewed message of many organizations, philanthropists and governments who suggest that people in the world are better off than ever, the reality is something different. In many poor countries people still live on $1.25 a day, while this is up from a $1.00 a day a few years ago, their cost of living, like ours, has escalated.

With the current upheavals and wars in the world, the very shaky economies that abound and the widening wealth gap, it appears myopic to even suggest that poverty is in rapid decline.

Charity as a means to support those poor, disadvantaged and marginalized, especially in Canada, is being transformed into private investment.  The societal responsibility that charity has been for generations is being undermined, if not completely dismissed.

Everyone knows that the focus of private investment for the last number of decades has been market based and fixated only on larger profits and wealth accumulation.  It has not been related to the well being of people or the world.

The internet and social media has created a new investment phenomenon called “Crowd funding”.  It appears that the more sensational the cause the more money that will be contributed be it for private or charitable causes.  This further polarizes investments in people and charitable giving.

With this approach charitable contributions will be shifted to those with the best access to the social media, most skilled at “marketing” and with the savvy to sensationalize their cause.

This fact alone will eliminate access by the poor and marginalized to the diminishing funds available.

They have neither access to social media, nor the marketing education and skills that provide the understanding of how to sensationalize their impoverished lifestyles.  Nor do they have the financial ability to hire the growing number of Crowdfunding organizations who will provide this expertise for a fee.

This is a boon for governments, who will no longer have to provide tax exemptions for charitable contributions, nor do they regulate, monitor or provide oversight to those doing the fundraising.

It fits well with the prevalent right wing philosophy of most governments that people should look after themselves, no matter their predicament.  It is not the role of government.

The long term needs of the poor in order to transition to a better life is lost in the frenzy of sensationalized projects and causes that compete and push to just collect more money.  Without proper oversight and follow up and long term strategies there is little hope for those most in need.

The old adage that charity is good for the soul is still a valid philosophy.  But, most people need to know that their charitable giving is making an impact and changing the lives of others.

Simply giving a little money for a sensational cause might salve the soul for a short time, but over the longer term, people will question whether it is making a difference.  That is the main reason that there is such cynicism towards some of the larger charitable institutions with their lavish organizations and opulent remuneration.

It is easy to see why sensationalized requests for funds are met with a frenzied response to contribute, especially if it is made easy.

It can be construed that people still have empathy for the poor and disadvantaged, but the question remains whether they genuinely care about those unable to provide for themselves.

Written by Bill Pardy

March 26th, 2015

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