As a priest, guilt-tripping charity adverts have gone too far - Neil McNicholas

It’s not my intention to shock or scandalise anyone by what I’m about to say, being a priest, and I’m certainly not for a moment suggesting that we shouldn’t support charities and charitable causes, but…

There are too many charity adverts on television, argues Neil McNicholas.
There are too many charity adverts on television, argues Neil McNicholas.

If you are at all in the habit of watching afternoon television and you are sitting there with £2 in front of you, be prepared to face a barrage of causes all vying for your money. It used to be £3 and still is in some cases, but certain charities have lowered their expectations in an effort to compete.

You have a vast choice of what you can do with your £2 – save an elephant; adopt a snow leopard; stop donkeys from being maltreated; support a dogs’ charity; support a cats’ charity; help provide clean drinking water; help save children’s eyesight; help children with clefts; save children suffering from famine; protect vulnerable children from abuse; support cancer research; train guide dogs; and on and on and on.

On occasion you will be faced with two appeals during the same commercial break: what do you do with your £2 – save a dog or a child? How dare they confront generous caring people with having to make such a choice? Somebody, somewhere, whose job is vetting what is broadcast, somebody with a sense of what is right and what isn’t, should 
stop this blatantly tasteless chasing of people’s money, and especially by playing on our guilt.

Do they not for a moment think we don’t know what they are doing? Just as people are coming in from work 
and sitting down with a drink in their hand, on comes an appeal showing children drinking from filthy water sources. And just as people are sitting down for their dinner, on comes an appeal for children suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Yes, we know severe need and deprivation exist, but deliberately (and it is quite clearly deliberate) making people feel guilty by putting them off their dinner and reaching for their credit card isn’t the way to deal with such problems.

People in the UK are unbelievably generous, without “guilting” them into make them give. If I have these figures correct, last year’s Children in Need appeal raised in the region of £50m; since its inception in 1980 it has raised over £950m. Every year the Government gives £13bn of our money in international aid. But charities still want our £2 for donkeys, and snow leopards, and elephants, and, oh yes, starving children.

The thought also occurs that charities have been making these television appeals for our help for years now and yet they never stop. In other words, how is our money being used if it never seems to make any difference? Are the problems so vast that the aid received doesn’t seem to be helping, or is that money not being entirely used for the purposes for which it was given? If it is in fact making a difference, wouldn’t it be encouraging if screen time was used to show us the evidence, instead of confronting us with the same appeals over and over and over again?

So there I was recently, sitting down to dinner while waiting to watch the news, when on comes the daily dose of guilt – children drinking filthy disease-ridden water, or dying of malnutrition. Of course I am going to feel guilty, who wouldn’t? But I find it objectionable that charities try such a cheap trick to prise money out of our pockets. I am quite capable of deciding for myself which charities to support and why, all we need is information, intelligently and respectfully presented, to help us in our decision-making, not this daily dose of cheap attempts to make us feel guilty not just because we are well-fed and well-off when millions aren’t, but also guilty that we would like to help animals in need but there are also children in need and our charity can only stretch so far.

I also object to those charities we choose to support sending begging letters appealing for even more. If we had more, or were able to give more we would, but there seems to be no appreciation of what we have already given, that in effect they are saying ‘thank you but we’d like even more’.

I always remember a well-known Catholic charity whose annual appeal some years ago included the usual envelope but with a cardboard insert with holes in it for five pound coins. Certainly in my parish the money received that year fell sharply as a result of people feeling they were being told what to give rather than choosing for themselves. A caveat if ever there was one.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest from Yarm