Helen Martin: Trapped by our own generosity

Charities prefer direct debits to pennies in tins. Picture: Sandy Mile

Charities prefer direct debits to pennies in tins. Picture: Sandy Mile

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CHRISTMAS is past but it’s still the season of goodwill, a time for giving – and I don’t mean Xboxes, expensive perfume and fancy handbags.

This is the peak charity season when appeals come at us from all sides on TV, by post, by telephone and still occasionally, by someone rattling a can or a bucket in your face.

Last week I was one of those collectors, in Fort Kinnaird’s Pets at Home helping to raise money for Edinburgh’s Retired Greyhound Trust which exists to find homes for ex-racers. Every pound or penny goes towards the work and the store’s customers were very generous, so thank-you all.

Giving, when we can afford it, makes us all feel good which is why it’s always pleasantly surprising that charity telethons such as Children in Need, or events such as the Moonwalk, and even primary school fairs, all of which involve genuine effort, often surpass the previous year’s target, particularly in times of austerity.

That’s the nice bit over. As ever, there’s a sting in the tail. My sister recently tried – unbidden – to give a substantial donation to a charity of her choice by phoning them. Apparently their method of operation now requires donors to sign up to a direct debit, which she wasn’t prepared to do. End of story.

The charity world is now so organised, so commercial and so pushy that her thwarted attempt to give is not unusual.

How many times do we hear phrases such as “just £3 a month” or “£1 a week” in appeals? Breaking it down into small amounts, makes it harder for anyone to say “no”, which, of course, is the whole idea.

But it also becomes almost impossible, unless you’re one of these diligent people who go through their bank statements with a fine tooth comb, to recall after a few years, let alone a decade on, how much you are giving and to whom. At least twice I only realised when their call centre rang me up to ask me to double my contribution!

Now I fully understand that like any other organisation, charities like to be able to plan ahead so that they can fund ongoing work. And for those who are especially supportive of the cause, a continuing commitment might be how they choose to give.

But in today’s world and financial climate, while the charity is focusing on its own needs, it must surely be aware that we, the donors, are being targeted by dozens.

And as we now know, that’s particularly unscrupulous when those on the end of the funding fishing line are vulnerable, elderly or incapacitated.

How many of us really know how much these “only £2 a month” debits from our bank account add up to? And how many of us would feel bad about phoning them to end the arrangement we can no longer afford, lest we appear Scrooge-like and uncaring? It may not be what charities intend, but that is how we become trapped by our own generosity.

So, on a not-so-heart-warming note, my New Year’s resolution is to redirect my giving to those grateful for a one-off or occasional donation.

My heart strings will no longer be tugged by charities who function on call centres and monthly billing. And I’ll probably end up giving more as a result.

When it comes to drink we bottle it

THE European Court of Justice has found the Scottish Government’s plan to introduce a minimum price for alcohol contrary to EU law because it restricts the market.

The entire exercise is an empty, pointless, token gesture which would result in as little as £4.69 for a bottle of wine and £4 for two litres of lager. Although £14 for a bottle of whisky might have been a wee bit discouraging, none of it would significantly reduce sales.

Bravely removing booze from supermarkets and allowing sales only in limited off-licences, as in Norway, might work, as would closing pubs and clubs at 1am and imposing a hefty domestic tax. Supermarkets and venues would close and jobs and votes would be lost though, and that’s clearly too high a price to pay to resolve “Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with drink”.

Job Disney bear thinking about

MAYBE it was something to do with me giving up my office-based newspaper job and being at home, but Himself suddenly decided he fancied a wee outdoor job.

He lodged his postcode and CV (63-year-old, part-time, freelance sports reporter, from Edinburgh) with an online recruitment site. And he was delighted a few days later to get an e-mail saying they had found some “excellent matches”.

Expecting something like a Christmas postie job, or perhaps the chance to be a relief driver for a local chemist’s delivery van, he was surprised to be offered a job with Surrey Police, though not nearly as flummoxed as he was by the next opportunities – a military police detective or a bodyguard! The one that really took the biscuit was “Walt Disney Corporation contract administrator, fluent in Turkish”.

Fortunately, he has an allotment.

Banks don’t want to know

BIG banks are planning to close even more branches in 2016, diverting us online or towards post offices and even libraries. Just cutting their overheads? I suspect it also means they won’t be responsible for keyboard mistakes we make or hackers gaining access to our accounts!