The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

The Gift of Giving

on November 19, 2013

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines on Friday, 8 November 2013, will affect 11 million people and has so far cost nearly 4,000 lives, with an estimated 1,500 unaccounted for and around 500,000 left homeless. Communities have disappeared, the surviving population of Tacloban look bewildered trying to get through each day and what lies ahead is uncertain as food, clean water and medical attention is desperately needed for the people in the here and now.

Whilst the Philippines are no stranger to being at the mercy of typhoons and other natural disasters, the strength of Super Typhoon Haiyan was declared unusual. There has been much debate about whether the wealthier economies have contributed to the occurrence of this ‘natural disaster’ because of the rise in global warming and climate change but that is a discussion best left on the UN political agenda for now. In the meantime so begins the grim task of dealing with the aftermath of such catastrophic levels of destruction to life and land. It has brought together a mass global emergency relief effort to support a country in despair but even in this area there is debate over the level of support given by some countries over others.

As a British expat, I am heartened by the fact that UK public donations has reached £33 million, with a further £30 million pledged by the British government. I read on the BBC news website that HMS Daring has reached Cebu port near Tacloban carrying 500 shelter kits, 10 tonnes of high energy biscuits and will use the ships own water filters to replenish 1,900 tankers with clean drinking water. The US is providing $20 million in immediate relief aid with much needed food parcels being dropped in by American Air Forces to areas where survivors are reaching critical stage with lack of food and clean water. Medicins Sans Frontieres has arranged teams of doctors, nursing staff, surgeons, psychologists and specialists in areas such as water sanitation to help the survivors. This is just a tiny glimpse at the international support being mobilised right now.

In addition, millions of pounds and dollars have been raised by the general public through pledges and fundraising events. A group of women from my condo did wonders with arranging a fundraising cake bake and raffle event in just a few days and raised over S$2,300 for Mercy Relief, a Singapore based NGO that is providing emergency relief of rice, preserved seafood, sanitised water and hygiene kits. Husband’s work did a quick whip round the office and raised over S$2,000. Calls for donations of clothing and blankets have been made as shipping companies donate containers to transport these items to the Philippines. The school which #1 and 2 attend have made an appeal to parents to donate money that will go to the Singapore Red Cross and the teachers are leading an activity with the children to make book marks to raise further funds. It’s good to see that so much is being done. Especially when there are a lot of people, mostly women working as home helpers, from the Philippines living in Singapore. Many of whom are affected by the events that have happened and have lost family members and homes. To be so far away during a time of great loss and uncertainty going on must be devastating. I hope it’s some comfort for them to see the world pulling together to help in any way they can.

I know it’s been over five years since I was in gainful employment but when I was, I worked in the voluntary sector as a Charity Fundraiser. My last role was with Cancer Research UK in the Major Gifts team as a Major Gifts Fundraising Manager. What does that mean? Quite simply, I worked with people with the propensity to make a significant personal donation. As you know, there are many ways to give to charitable causes from corporate sponsorship and Charity of the Year partnerships; charitable trusts set up with the purpose of supporting particular concerns; individual giving of regular monthly donations; events participation and community activity with innovative ideas for raising money coming from you.

I was 25 when I first came across the notion that you could work for a charity. A University acquaintance was working for Barnardos at the time and another friend had done some temping work for The Evelina Children’s Hospital Appeal, (the Children’s Hospital for Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, London) and they told me they were looking to recruit and that’s where I started off my career in fundraising. I then moved onto the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, the National Deaf Children’s Society before Cancer Research UK. I’ve often wondered what kind of career I’ll resume when I restart gainful employment but I keep coming back to the Voluntary Sector.

Of course it’s a hugely rewarding job to be in but there can exist a lot of misconceptions over what working for a charity means. People are often surprised it’s even a paid job. Some people are of the opinion that if you work for a charity then you shouldn’t get paid because why should donations be used to pay for salaries. There are millions of people who give their time and support for a charity without being paid and as Volunteers they are invaluable. They raise funds, they raise awareness, they steward events and without them many organisations could barely exist; both the really well established ones and the small fledgeling ones.

If only you could meet some of the people I have worked with, who are also my fabulous friends, who now work for a diverse range of causes such as Oxfam, Wide Horizons, National Deaf Children’s Society, WWF, British Red Cross, Teenage Cancer Trust, Breast Cancer Care and so many more. If only you could have a ten minute conversation with them about what their job involves and you will feel the passion and commitment exude from them as they tell you what their organisation is set up to do to help the people who need it most. If only you could meet the specialists, care providers, medical scientists whose work is funded by your donations. If only you could meet the people who need charities to exist, not because they need your sympathy but because they can tell you all about the difference that can be made and has been made.

Fundraising is challenging because I’m asking you to part with money and in return you get nothing but the knowledge that your money is going towards empowering people and giving them hope that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Some may think that ‘paying taxes’ should be enough or that the State should provide certain services and perhaps it should but there’s never going to be enough money to service a nation’s needs. If you look at the history of any charity, you will find an amazing story of philanthropy to meet a need that one person, or a group of people, have decided just can’t continue and have used their own money, time and commitment to try and solve it. The Evelina Children’s Hospital was built and fully funded by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1869 to treat sick children in a seriously deprived area of London. I don’t suppose you could have one person doing all that again but today it would still just take one person to set the ball rolling and achieve amazing things.

Like any other sector the Voluntary Sector is governed by stringent rules and regulations set out by the Charity Commission, HMRC and the government. You would expect that though when it’s about your money and your donations. Don’t you feel more reassured to know that a charity is led by responsible Chief Executives, Finance Directors, dedicated Fundraisers and a committed and informed Board of Trustees? I’ll always remember the Director of Finance when I worked at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, who would get himself tied up in knots re-enforcing to us fundraisers the importance of accounting all donations and receipts for audit purposes. I hope he’s enjoying a less stressful retirement now. Your donations are not distributed on a whim either. Careful consideration is given to all projects submitted for a request for funding and a panel of experts in that field are responsible for granting funds where need is greatest and where outcomes will directly support the most beneficiaries. It’s a very serious business and the overhead costs are kept as low as possible so that more money is directed to where it’s needed. You may think that money spent on advertising campaigns that the large, well known charities do are a waste of money but they are not. Raising awareness of a cause is just as important; getting messages out there is educating the public both to garner support and as a preventative measure.

There is so much more I could say but where would I stop? I’m really proud to have worked for the charities that I have. How could I not be when I know all the good work that they do to provide care for very sick children; supporting 30,000 people with muscular dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease that has no cure; empowering 30,000 deaf children in the UK to an education they should have and providing funding for the rare, less well known types of cancers that don’t affect as many people but still the consequences are no less severe.

I’m not going to ask you to rush out and give to a charity because if you don’t then with Christmas around the corner, Father Christmas will put you firmly on the bad list. I’ve long since realised that asking people to give under duress does not lead to a fulfilling experience on either side. Giving is a very personal choice. What cause you give to needs to have meaning for you.

I would though, like to ask you that you have a think of what concerns are important to you and have a look at what charities exist to support that concern. Then perhaps take a bit more time to see what projects are being funded right now to help and then perhaps think some more about when would be the right time for you to get involved. Perhaps you could even speak with that Fundraiser for ten minutes and if you do then I guarantee you will definitely find someone as passionate as you about that cause.

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