Today, 29 May, was Wear White At Work Day, organised by the organisation White Wreath in support of people who have attempted suicide and their families. A very important cause, which made me feel extra bad when I forgot to wear white (no, not even my underwear).
As I walked back from my lunch break, I happened upon a poster advertising Beanies for Brain Cancer, June 18-23. Also a fantastic cause. Although I’m not sure what my wearing a beanie would benefit more: my own cold head or the individuals and families battling brain cancer.
In what seemed to me an uncanny coincidence, on my short walk to the station only a few hours later, I then crossed the road in front of a bus plastered with the slogan: ‘Real Men Wear Pink!’, advertising a June campaign supporting breast cancer research during which, I suppose, men are encouraged to break with gender stereotypes and wear pink. Once again, I can’t fault the intention.
Forgive my cynicism, but since when did every colour and item of clothing belong to a cause? And what do these causes stand to gain by restricting my clothing choices once a year? Is an alliteration-riddled, gold-coin-donation, office-dress up really the best – or only – way to raise awareness and funds in this day and age?
Ok, perhaps I feel it more than most. I work in a not for profit (we LOVE our causes) where it genuinely feels like every other week there is a morning tea or dress up day – usually both at the same time. Any excuse for free food. I’m not sure how many gold coins are collected, but we sure do eat a lot of cheese and biccies.
No disrespect at all to my organisation of the wonderful people I work with – we are in the sector we are in because we care about people, and we applied for our jobs to make a difference. So of course we want to do all we can.
I don’t even mean to judge the charities themselves, who are fighting tooth and nail out of genuine, heartfelt conviction to get ahead in what is now a very competitive charitable landscape. To get an edge through a catchy name, a gimmick that will stand out enough to raise awareness of the issue and maybe bring in a few dollars.
My concern is largely with the state of our society and the charitable sector itself. What have we become, that there are so many charities competing for a measley buck? That no day or week or month is now just a normal day or week or month, but is ‘owned’ by a cause? That some organisations pay backpackers to accost me on the street and guilt me into giving?
Perhaps I’m idealising the past here, but I could count on nearly one hand the number of special charity ‘days’ that were observed every year when I was at school.
Back in the 90s, major charities seemed to have their own unique style of promotion and fundraising. There just didn’t seem to be as much gimmick-envy as there is in 2017. Everyone had their own gimmick and stuck to it. There was Bandage Bear Day. Red Nose Day. Jeans for Genes Day. Does the MS Readathon count? Oh, and of course Legacy and Daffodil Days. Then there was the 40 Hour Famine. I guess that fits. Feel free you add in the comments any others you remember!
Then suddenly, in the past 15 years or so, we appear to have lost control.
First there were all the ribbons. White ribbon, pink ribbon, red ribbon, purple ribbon…etc. And when the ribbon rainbow ran out, we moved to items of clothing.
And then finally, Movember started the trend of claiming months and giving them pun-tastic or rhyming names (Janu-hairy, FebFast, Dry July – I will spare you the entire list) to dictate even our lifestyle choices and personal grooming.
All very clever, I must say. But what I’m interested to know is, what has been the impact of this proliferation? More charities, more publicity, slicker awareness campaigns – but do people care more? And do they give more?
I have zero evidence to back up this claim other than a gut feeling, but my theory is – no. I am willing to bet that we give less to individual causes than ever. There is simply too much to choose from!
I also wonder whether our motivations have changed. Nowadays, it’s easy to feel generous and look generous – without necessarily being generous.
Before I close off this thought train, I want to relay an anecdote that really made me think.
Don’t you just love it when someone from another culture questions something about your own that you just take for granted, making you realise just how ridiculous and arbitrary it is?
A few years ago I was volunteering with a uni group that helped international students settle in to Australia. We ran a Bible study for the Christian students, and one day we organised to participate in a charity event called Walk for Bibles, a sponsored walk around Olympic Park to raise money for Bibles for Christians in poor countries who couldn’t access them.
Towards the end of the walk, and a few hundred dollars later, one of my international student friends simply asked, ‘Why do we walk?’ I explained that there were lots of charities that did this kind of thing for sponsorship. She then, with blank face, repeated her question: ‘But why do we have to walk? I mean, I’m happy to walk, but I don’t really see what it achieves. Couldn’t people just give money because they believe in the cause?’
In other words, why the gimmick? I thought she made a very good point, a point which I believe can also be also be applied to alliterative dress-up days and the like.
Perhaps the bottom line (and I’m really showing my political colours here) is that too many people – at home and abroad – are suffering from our nation’s increasingly tight-fisted approach to welfare and aid funding. The beleaguered charity sector just can’t keep up and is willing to try anything to survive!
I’ll leave that one for you to chew on and sign off before I really get going! Very interested to hear your theories also (and any actual evidence you know of about this trend!!)