On charities, big connections and slick branding in charitable fund raising
Some of you may have spotted this number by Spitting Image in a previous blogpost
…which given the puppet that appears first makes it all the more interesting stumbling across the Big Change Charitable Trust (BCCT). Slick webpage, all the top social media links, all for a good cause. What are they about? Their Facebook page states.
We are six friends who are passionate about making a difference:
Big Change started life as a giant caterpillar that ran the London Marathon. Today it’s an organisation that has been set up by six friends who want to use teamwork, fun and personal challenges to have a positive impact on the lives of young people.
Which gives the impression that it’s six ordinary people that set up this charity to raise money for a good cause while having lots of fun in the process. Wouldn’t we all? Many of the big name charities have full time staff that spend their time organising big fund-raising events. The likes of the Prince’s Trust – one that I personally benefited from – would struggle without the big set piece events. But at least it’s clear who’s behind it. The name and the branding makes it clear it’s the Prince of Wales.
Now, the Prince of Wales – both the individual and the institution – comes with baggage. Ferry-loads of it. Whether it’s the current incumbent’s lobbying activities to whether the institution of a hereditary monarchy deciding on a head of state to the presence of a royal family in an age where we’re all supposedly born equal to whether the current incumbent’s charitable statements are compatible with his opulent lifestyle…exactly. But that’s not the purpose of this blogpost. As far as the charities are concerned, they’ve got his stamp on it. Thus when people engage with it, they are doing so from an informed position.
Aren’t all charities as clear as the Prince of Wales’ charities?
Not as much as they could be. The example of BCCT which I randomly stumbled across on social media got me thinking. Their Our Story webpage (see here) starts with quite an interesting event: 34 people running the London Marathon. That in itself is quite an achievement. Most people probably have not, or could not, or would not choose to run a marathon. I certainly couldn’t. Not now, not ever. This group of 34 people ran the London Marathon tied together dressed as a caterpillar. I think that’s quite impressive – but the website doesn’t tell me anything more about who those 34 people were.
On the same Our Story webpage, we find the names of the six founders.
Bea from the Block
The thing is, three of the six founders have very titled and very wealthy fathers. Two are the children of Sir Richard Branson while “Bea York” is one of The Queen’s grand daughters. Regarding the latter, her royal connections are not mentioned on the charity’s web page mentioned above, but her work with the charity is mentioned on the Duke of York’s web page.
Actually, Bea York has got an interesting experience to tell regarding disabilities. As with mental health issues, dyslexia – which she states she has, is something that she has had to cope with. This is particularly relevant to the dyslexia charities she supports. Just because you might be born into a wealthy family doesn’t mean things are any less frustrating on a personal day-to-day level. Thus she has a degree of empathy with other people with dyslexia that I, not having dyslexia won’t have.
“Maybe she wants to do something where she’s not judged for being a royal as soon as she walks into the room?”
Perhaps. But given the media’s infantilisation of the royals (I moaned about it here) chances are we’ll never know. Also, there’s the oft-repeated story throughout history of what the offspring of wealthy and/or financially successful parents should do with their lives forever in the very public shadow of their parents.
“Isn’t it good that they are doing something for a good cause?”
Yes – but…
“Yes but what?”
It reminds me of a talk that John Bird, the founder of The Big Issue, gave in Cambridge not so long ago. I blogged about it here. I can almost hear John now asking whether the service users of the charity’s activities are also the sort of people the founders either grew up with in childhood, or mix with in their social circles today. Bird’s outlook touches on the wealth and class barriers in our society. Are the actions of the social class that they are part of a major cause of the societal problems that we face? Is their charitable work only a small sticking plaster on issues that can only be tackled with a much wider overhaul of our entire social and economic system?
In one of my earliest blogposts – about my experiences of signing on at the Job Centre, I stated the following:
Looking at what former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee said about charity in general, and you can see where the political divide between Conservatives and their political opponents on the role of charities, emerges.
‘Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim’.
In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice. [Link via here]
In a nutshell, this is the difference between charities that provide some sort of alleviation to those in need (which if you look at the BCCT’s Charity Commission registration via here (their charity number is 1145224)) the Trust either does directly or funds organisations that does this, to campaigning charities. I.e. ones that, for example seek changes in the law to improve the conditions of those they campaign on behalf of. As some of my Conservative followers state, the former is an appropriate role for charities, but the latter is one most definitely in the party political sphere and has no place for a charitable organisation. I disagree with them, but your own view ultimately depends on your own political disposition.
“Are you asking these six chums to overthrow Western Capitalism and replace it with a globalised utopian system of environmentally friendly anarcho-syndicalist communes?”
Because where the party for working socialism hasn’t succeeded… [I jest].
There are two separate issues here. The first is that their charitable activities limit them getting tied up in party politics. Charity law stops charities from being politically partisan. In the case of Bea York, having a royal title has an even stronger effect – members of the royal family are duty-bound to be ‘above’ party politics. Even if royals might be party political in private correspondence with Whitehall, ministers won’t release the contents anyway. Also, to what extent should children be held responsible for the actions of their parents? This issue is a battle that the six of them will never win in the eyes of their detractors – short of handing over their wealth to revolutionary causes and manning the barricades at the same time.
The second issue – which is more of an immediate or day-to-day one, is one of branding. Should their website give the feel of ‘six ordinary people that everyday citizens might bump into in the street’, or should it be more clear about the backgrounds and connections that the founders have? I can see why they’ve done the former, but my preference is for the latter. Why? if anything because it feels more honest and credible – in particular when it comes to the connections that they are able to call upon. Far better to acknowledge that, compared to the rest of us they are in very fortunate positions in life, and that perhaps they want to give something back to society. Isn’t that a more credible message than one that, when you scratch the surface appears that it’s not telling the full story?