Supporting Charity in T&T: Beyond the Facebook Status
Open question: when someone approaches you with some sort of charitable cause, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Do you cringe at the thought of forking out your money to some faceless person, or some cause that doesn’t affect your daily life? Or do you just walk past quickly to avoid any potential conversation? Or is it that you’ve conditioned yourself to mentally block out anyone who seems to work in that field altogether?
A few months ago, I got involved with a non-governmental organisation, basically because I had some free time on my hands, and I saw it as a good venture to get into. It started out as a means of killing time between semesters, but soon became crazy, fun, stressful, enlightening, chaotic and worth every minute in the end.
During that time, I was privy to some eye-opening facts about working for a charitable cause, and let me tell you – it’s not easy work. What makes it even more difficult is the perception of the public, seeing that charitable organisations depend on the average Joe and Jane for support, be it financially or otherwise.
Here in Triniland, support from the public is… hard to come by, unless the organisation is well known, or the supporters are affected in some way to the cause. Otherwise, there are reasons galore as to why the majority of people don’t get involved. And let’s be real, dedicating your Facebook status twice a year to a cause doesn’t really do that much.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking to some associates in the field about Trinis’ support for charities, and not surprisingly, they shared my view. I then asked them why, even in the face of all the flack and trouble, they keep pushing on when a normal 9-to-5 job seems easier. Some said it was because they were affected in some way by the cause they championed. Others said it was because they believe the people they help need a voice. A few saw the work they do as their lifelong calling.
While some people are happy to donate to or work with NGOs, not all of us are wired to devote our time, far less, our money to charitable causes. Why? My associates had their views, and I spoke to a few friends to get their take as well. Since most of this was just healthy conversation during a Friday evening lime, I won’t be calling any names. I will, however, give an idea of what was said, in the hope of stimulating discussion about why people aren’t as giving towards charities, and how people feel about donating, so that at least you see a different perspective on the rigours charitable organisations encounter.
It’s a scam!
Let’s face it – Trinis are a tough crowd. Almost nothing gets past them, especially when you’re trying to sell them something. And the stakes for success get exponentially higher when you try to get into their pockets. They already find it difficult to part with their money (especially when they’re not going spend it on themselves).
And considering the competition is already stiff with the huge number of organisations out there, plus the ones that are popping up daily, the work gets even more difficult. And given the corruption and embezzlement scandals we hear about in the news, the public is even more mistrusting. The work a charitable organisation does is not necessarily in plain sight, and most times you have 90 seconds tops to prove yourself.
This is where some business know-how comes in handy – more and more charitable organisations are enlisting the help of businesspeople to serve on governing committees and they’re partnering with large corporations to get their message out there. And they’re using tactics you would normally find in the conventional business world – giving away free merchandise, advertising aggressively, getting celebrity endorsements, and other techniques to grab people’s attention, and hopefully, their support.
What’s in it for me?
This question was the one question everyone at the table agreed upon. The most common of perceptions of supporting a charitable cause is whether you get something out of it or not. The quick answer to that question is… not (at least nothing material). But that’s the idea of a charitable cause – charity.
Another misconception is that all charitable organisations need is money. But you’d be surprised at the number of them out there that would shower you with hugs and kisses, if you offered a few hours of your time, or a skill you have. It matters not if you have enough prefixes and suffixes attached to your name, or you have nothing to offer but an extra pair of hands. The help will always be welcome.
And remember everything you do is for the benefit of someone else, who probably is not as fortunate as you are, or as capable to take care of his or herself. And I can tell you from personal experience – there’s nothing like working on giving hope to people who have little or none.
Why not get funding from the Government or the private sector?
It’s true – some organisations are fortunate enough to receive subsidies, or subventions, as the Government likes to call them, from the Ministry of the People and Social Development. Some may have the backing of corporate entities in the private sector.
What the public may not know is the terms under which charitable organisations are afforded this help. Government subventions are used solely for the upkeep of an office space, utility bills and payroll for office staff. Private sector funding is usually tied into a specific programme or project.
But there is no guarantee that the charities that get support would get any tomorrow. There are certain criteria for a charitable organisation to receive a Government subvention, and the actual amount given depends heavily on the country’s overall economic status. Private sector entities think of their support to charities as an investment; the more popular the organisation’s work turns out to be, the more likely they will continue to give… and brag about it in their yearly, financial reports and five-minute spots on TV. But the only way for that to happen is if people like you and me are on board, backing charities in any way we can.
Someone else will handle it
Another thing I want to point out is our culture, and how it affects our attitude towards charitable organisations.
Compared to other countries, Trinis have a pretty lax approach when it comes to supporting charities. Some believe it’s not their problem, and someone will come along and take care of it anyway. Others hold onto the notion that whatever circumstances the people these organisations help are in will rub off on them. And most believe the only reason to get involved is if you’re affected in some way… While in other countries there will be hundreds, even thousands who wouldn’t even think twice, because they believe it’s their social responsibility. And that’s the thing – it is our social responsibility. Which is not to say that NGOs in other countries such as the UK or the US don’t have their own challenges with garnering donations and support from the public. Luckily for them, they have a larger number of people to target.
So my question to you is, how do you feel about giving to a charitable cause? Is it something you have to think about, is it second nature, or do you prefer not to think about it at all? However you look at it, remember the only way to move forward as a society and a country is together. And it’s not as hard as it seems either, especially if all (okay… most) of us pitch in to make it happen.
Check out the rest of this week’s issue (3/10/11; Issue 75):
- Blurring the Lines: Friending your Child by Onika Pascal.
- Sex, Stories, and Music: The Hunt Backstage by Mystie Thongs.
- Upgrading your Man or Woman: Worth the Gamble? by Katyan Roach.
- Landlord Adventures: Toilets, Baybays and Excuses by Keisha Stephen-Gittens.
- Scrunting or Balling: Wait til I get my Money Right by Karel Mc Intosh.
Look out for a new issue of Outlish.com every Monday!