Quite apart from my usual morose misanthropy, I loathe Comic Relief. Not only must we endure endless acts of “fun”, which are usually about as entertaining as a slow death, but we are then asked to pay for the pleasure of watching. Cretinous upon cretinous act is performed and we are all duly expected to oblige by opening our wallets, thus encouraging this buffoonery to continue year on year. In terms of the terrible acts of “fun”, my feeling is summed up in this scene from The Office:
[on Comic Relief]
Tim: Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against this sort of thing. It’s a good cause, but I just don’t want to have to join in with someone else’s idea of wackiness, okay? It’s the wackiness I can’t stand. It’s like, you see someone outside Asda collecting for cancer research because they’ve been personally affected by it, or whatever, I dunno, an old bloke selling poppies, there’s a dignity about that. A real quiet dignity.
[In the background, a gang including David Brent and Gareth wrestle a colleague to the ground and pull down his trousers on camera]
Tim: And that’s what today’s about, isn’t it? Dignity. Always dignity.
It really says something about us as a society that we are only willing to give to charity when somebody makes a fool of themselves for money. Surely if we are concerned about giving to charity at all we should simply do just that.
Of course, not all acts of charity for Comic Relief are fatuous and puerile. In terms of being dragged into somebody else’s idea of fun the hikes across continents, bike rides across countries, climbs up mountains and jumps out of planes are far more tolerable. Nevertheless, such efforts often seem to be (though I accept, by no means always) an attempt to fulfil some sort of personal ambition without having to fund it oneself. One can fulfil an ambition for free, obtain a nice round of applause and make some money for charity at the same time. Who loses, right?! Again, if we are going to give to charity it strikes me we should simply give to charity rather than waiting on somebody to do something worthy of our cash. Equally, if we want to fulfil some lifelong ambition how charitable are we being by using charities and a particular culture of charitable giving to get something for ourselves? Under such circumstances, the round of applause should sound hollow. Nevertheless, I am grateful for small mercies and at least hold onto the fact that such things don’t expect you to laugh like a drain at some witless attempt for both money and approval.
However, it is not simply the element of wackiness that causes issue. There is immense social pressure to give to Comic Relief despite the fact it covers a broad range of largely unspecified causes. When chuggers knock on the door they are very upfront about why they are there and for whom they are working. Most people, quite understandably and without any embarrassment, give them short shrift. Conversely, a similar reaction to a sponsorship request from somebody wearing a red nose and hopping everywhere, all whilst having never explained exactly where your money is going, carries real social stigma.
As Adrian Reynolds points out at The Proclamation Trust, it is simply irresponsible to give to general campaigns without first knowing where your giving will be sent. Comic Relief is an umbrella campaign which distributes funds to a variety of charities. However, whilst it is possible to obtain some information specifying how Comic Relief distributes its funds, there is often little or no visibility. In reality, most people are entirely unaware of where the money is spent yet duly give and actively raise funds regardless. Whilst I am in no doubt Comic Relief money is sent to many good charities, it also supports many dubious ones too.
I am far from anti-charity. I would encourage you to be generous with your money. Give to charity and those in need but don’t give indiscriminately. Be wise in where you give and what you support. When you find organisations to whom you want to give bear in mind Matthew 6:3. Nevertheless, if you decide to publicly raise money for your charity, please – and I cannot stress this enough – do not try and make your charitable efforts “fun”!