Thursday, March 24, 2016

Campaigns and fundraisers

    • In my paper about how volunteering is propping up a broken system I am also writing about fundraisers and campaigns. There are lots of things I don’t understand.
    I see lots of fundraisers that don’t account for all costs: time, health, environment. I see fundraisers where the people who make the stuff are the people who buy the stuff. That’s not efficient. I see people wearing rubber wrist bands that will take hundreds of years to degrade. I see people buying plastic stuff that will probably end up in the ocean. I see people sending Christmas boxes to children in the Pacific Islands, who then have to live with the wrapping and plastic on their island or in the ocean. I see cupcakes and donuts. A teacher I know was selling chocolates to raise money for a children’s hospital. At one school the students ran a campaign taking enviro-selfies. They declared it a success because they had 300 likes on Instagram. It made zero impact on the environment.

    I see the RSPCA gives a tick to dead animal products.

    I see people shaving their head for the Leukaemia Foundation. A girlfriend in Melbourne told me she was planning to do it. I asked her not to.
    • I don't like the 'Shave for a Cause' campaign. There are a few reasons why. I understand that people want to raise money and to make cancer patients feel less alone, but shaving your head isn't a great way to go about it. At a school I was working at the students were doing it, and everyone was clapping and cheering, and a teacher who had just recovered from breast cancer was in the staff room sobbing. I couldn't participate. When you shave your head you don't lose your eyebrows and eyelashes. That's the weirder part than having a bald head. When you shave your head your hair grows back soft and normal. After chemo your hair grows back different and weird. My hair is very different now from what it was. It is coarse and weird. I had my head shaved because the hair on my head had died and was coming out in clumps. It was confronting and distressing. My main concern was hiding it from my kids. Having non-cancer patients walking around with bald heads makes it harder to identify the real patients (unless I'm at hospital). I don't know if people I meet have a shared experience or not. Helen Razer calls it 'cancer cosplay', and she's right. Traditionally shaving one's head symbolises a loss - mourning or a loss of identity - it reminds me of entering the army or a concentration camp - a way of stripping people of their individuality. It's punitive. That’s why patients who have chemotherapy (which makes you sick - it’s poison) feel the loss of their hair. Because I’ve had cancer treatment I’ll never be the same again. I’m on medication. My bone density is weakened. I take supplements. I need to stay out of the sun for the rest of my life. I’m always worried about relapsing. I understand people might not have thought of these things before, but it isn’t an act of solidarity. When I saw a child at my daughter’s primary school get his head shaven at school, I cried.

    • Here’s another one: the White Ribbon Campaign. 
    • Women have been telling men, forever, to stop hitting women. Men get the idea to say the same thing (because everybody knows that no-one listens to women). They name the campaign. They have ambassadors and advocates (some of whom have a record of violence against women). They buy billboards. They sell white ribbons. They are heroes. (Men who speak out about women's rights can even be Australian of the Year!)
    • What are they doing? Do they provide funding for abused women? Help the campaign to provide women’s refuges? Organise counselling for violent men? Campaign against sexist advertising, the porn industry, gender equality in power positions on boards or in government, change the way violence against women is reported in the media? No. They are asking men to take an oath. They say 156,636 people have taken their oath and their reach is growing. That’s their aim and their product (although, you could argue their product is themselves).   
    • Now, lets follow the money.
    • According to their  professional, corporate looking website, their funds come from donations, merchandise, events, partners and philanthropic organisations, and receive 10% government funding. Their revenue in 2013/2014 was $2,697,261. They aren’t funding anything that helps women in a practical way, so what is their money spent on? Paying men to run their events and campaigns and show what great guys they are for telling men to stop hitting women. A swanky website doesn’t pay for itself. It is very corporate looking, with a mission statement and graphics. The money goes to paying themselves. They are a not for profit organisation.

    Meanwhile I see the Coalition for Women's Refuges, made up of women who have worked in women's refuges and feminist groups for years or decades, campaign for the restoration of safe places for women and children to go when abused, working for free with no money, no website, no corporate sponsorship, no big media campaign. Why is that?

    I see welfare programs that were once run by government agencies now run by church based groups. The church based groups can afford to deliver services more cheaply because they use volunteer labour. They can access more volunteer labour by funnelling people into that labour through their programs. These groups own property, pay no tax, accept tax deductible donations, and, one could argue, have a vested interest in keeping people poor and uneducated in order to prop up their own institutions. These institutions have systematically abused children and covered it up. They are not ethical.

    You can see what I mean by fundraisers and campaigns being inefficient, damaging, or ineffective. They are propping up broken systems. The way to fix the broken systems is to campaign for proper use of taxpayers’ money. Children's hospitals should be funded. Animals should be protected. Victims of domestic violence should have safe refuge. Australia should give aid internationally. Guess which countries do these things rather than run stupid, time wasting campaigns and fundraisers? Nordic countries.

  • So, here's my suggestions. Whenever we are asked to donate or fund-raise or volunteer, say this: No, but I will send an email to a politician asking that your program be funded properly.

1 comment:

Joan Garvan said...

Thanks Catherine for your thoughtful and provocative entry to which I say hear hear!

There are some campaigns and maybe some volunteer programs that are superfluous and these should be called out - like the white ribbon campaign. Most NGOs operate on a percentage (something like 25%) of their takings and the rest goes to projects in the field. The white ribbon campaign should be called out to do the same and I'd be a supporter.

I certainly agree that government programs shouldn't be given over to church groups and any campaign along these lines I'd also support (maybe we should write to Four Corners to do an expose on this very topic).

But, I continue to spend much of my time volunteering and your piece hasn't convinced me to change. At least you can be choosy about what you volunteer for and groups of volunteers set their own agenda, they are not bound by policy or convention. There are heaps of examples but must say the first that comes to mind is the Russian group Pussy Riot. They are in your face, they protest real and important things, their wonderfully creative and they've spent time in goal for their efforts - must be doing something right.

Its great to call people out and you are doing that but I'd say, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Happy Ishtar ... x