Someone needs cancer treatment only available in Germany. Someone else is leading a 187-mile bike ride across India to pay for research into brain tumours. Top right is a team of swimmers with learning disabilities who want to attend an international competition in Sheffield; bottom left is a girl who desperately needs a bone marrow transplant. And all around are numbers that dance in front of your eyes: “£64,994 raised by 2,773 supporters … £1,044 raised by 47 supporters … £900 raised by 23 supporters.”
The online donation platform JustGiving seemingly soothes the world’s ills with a sleek, altruistic efficiency the pre-digital world could get nowhere near. Since its foundation in 2001, it claims to have raised $4.2bn (£3.3bn) for “good causes” in 164 countries.
It also styles itself as a “for-profit, for-good organisation”, but those two elements might not mesh together quite as gracefully as its founders would like. The 5% that JustGiving skims off each donation – slightly more if they are gift-aided – reportedly amounts to £20m a year. According to its accounts, one director has a salary of £152,000 plus pension contributions of £46,600. Recently there have also been questions about the provenance of two high-profile appeals it has hosted, both related to the recent Westminster attack.
Somewhat unbelievably, online donation platforms fall outside the remit of the fundraising regulator and, as reported by the Guardian this week, there are now loud calls to correct such a glaring anomaly.
According to a recent survey by the Charities Aid Foundation, only 50% of us now think charities are trustworthy. On top of hostility to government and big business, the inward-looking sensibilities crystallised in the Brexit vote might be colouring public attitudes towards the so-called third sector.
There is a sense of the same sentiments in all that noise about aid spending, now the subject of an intervention by that great charitable icon Bill Gates, who wants Theresa May to stick with the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on aid.
There again, even if a new public meanness partly explains some people’s scepticism, it may not explain it all. Many may well have more rational reasons: the sense of a world too beyond scrutiny, highlighted by the Kids Company saga; a reasonable suspicion that high-profile fundraising is often an easy way for governments to be let off the hook, and for wealthy people to draw attention away from their tax affairs.
But here is the strange thing. We still give almost as much to charity as we did 10 years ago, and the imperative to dig in one’s pocket has never been more ubiquitous. The shaking of tins on drizzly Saturday mornings is the stuff of the 20th century: now, charity is loud, brash and firmly built into the narcissistic, virtue-signalling world of social media. The unfortunate are helped via South American trekking and polar hikes; venturing to the other side of the world is…