Home > Charity, Comment, Rants > Guide Dogs Not Children

Guide Dogs Not Children

Guide dogs not children, birds not the environment, lifeboats not human rights. People all over the UK seem more interested in the three former than the three latter, yet when push comes to shove children, the environment and human rights are an investment for the future that we cannot fail to neglect. I doubt anyone would claim to believe anything different, but when it comes to raising money for these charities we can see that where this sad trend might originate.

We’ve all been hassled on the high street by over-enthusiastic chuggers ( charity muggers, for those in the know ), and I’m sure we would love to give them the five minutes they need, if you weren’t carrying myriad shopping bags, late for work, or just looking forward to a drink in the pub. It’s even worse when they call you – it’s like a house invasion. People just don’t want to be told what’s going wrong with the world while they get on with their daily lives – fact!

This is why, when cold-called from Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Cancer Research, or one of the one-hundred and seventy thousand, nine hundred and five registered charities in the UK listed by the NCVO ( National Council for Voluntary Organisations – http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk ), people don’t want to hear about the problems these organisations are trying to solve. It tends to leave a blemish in peoples tidy lives, and this is why, on the street and over the phone people prefer to give money to guide-dogs, birds and lifeboats – maybe…

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that charities make a lot of money. The RSPB is the largest environmental charity in Europe. It has over a million members making regular donations, not to mention it’s lifetime members paying in excess of £900 for the privilege, plus all the one-off donations it receives. Each member pays approximately £36 for the year ( based on the minimum donation of £3 a month ), this would give the RSPB somewhere in the region of an annual income of £36 million a year! However, calling RSPB members on an uplift campaign ( asking, as politely as possible if they can raise their regular donations ) you will find quite a number of people who give a lot more than the minimum membership. If you average out donations at £5 a month the RSPB must make £60 million a year, and it gets this money by appealing to people’s sentiments about our national bird life. In fact, after checking the RSPBs’ Trustees’ annual report and accounts 2009 – http://www.rspb.org.uk/about/run/reportaccounts.aspx – I can tell you the RSPB raised £86.3 million all told, more than two thirds of which comes from donations, subscriptions and legacies.

This is fine, all things considered. I am a massive fan of the RSPB, and do not begrudge birds all over the world millions of pounds a year. It’s how this charity, and the Dogs Trust, and Guide Dogs for the Blind, can appeal to people’s sentiments to raise that money that irks me. Not because I feel anyone’s exploited, nor is it the charities fault. It is the fact that other charities, who do just as important work, can’t appeal to people in the same way. If you were called up out of the blue, and asked to set up a regular donation of £5 a month, being told that every £19,000 pays for a guide dog from infancy to adulthood, including full-training for dog and owner, you’d have to hate dogs to not want to help. However, if Friends of the Earth, an environmental charity called up, telling people that unless they help with £3 a month, the ozone layer would disappear, or the Amazon rainforest would be deforested in 2 years, or one of the many campaigns they run, it is far more likely they will do everything possible to not hear about it.

This all indicates that sponsoring a cuddly puppy, or protecting birds from oil slicks, are feel good issues that people all across the UK are willing to embrace with gusto, while children charities, environmental charities, and human rights charities, just don’t tell people anything quantifiable i.e. they can’t give a definite figure of how much money will make a difference. It is the suggestion of our responsibility that people don’t like, or the suggestion that they can help but are choosing not to, that really brings on the irritation. To be called and told you can help train more guide dogs doesn’t irritate in the same way as being told you are responsible for deforestation in the Amazon by buying palm-oil products, or factory farmed meat, but you can make amends, just help our charity with £3 a month. The other side of the coin is that they will say: “How does donating £3 a month do any good?” This is a very good question, because unlike guide dogs, environmental work has no fixed price. If Greenpeace could call up and say, “If we can raise £1 million we can stop deforestation, full stop, capital letter, new campaign,” then more people would probably be inclined to help. But the truth is they can’t, and this leaves people wondering how their money can help.

This is why people in the UK prefer to hear about animal charities, and environmental charities are left in the cold. We all know the state of the environment is our responsibility, but to be told this is irksome – it annoys me too, so don’t presume I’m on my high-horse. I know how annoying it is to be told something you know you should do but haven’t done yet, it’s just like your parents repeatedly telling you to clean your room when you complain you can’t find your favourite toy. You know you’ll find the toy when you clean your room, but the idea of cleaning your room is irritating, so is helping charities protect the environment. Because giving £3 a month does nothing unless you change your behaviour as well. You don’t have to change your life to feel good about giving money to Guide Dogs Trust, the RSPB or RNLI ( Royal National Lifeboat Institution ), because just in virtue of donating a little money you can feel like you’re making a difference. However, just giving £3 a month to FOE, or Greenpeace, or WWF, means nothing if you still drive a four-wheel drive in the city, or eat battery farmed eggs, or don’t bother to recycle.

When push comes to shove, children, the environment and human rights problems are not what we like to take the time to hear about. They can’t give a definite, be-all-and-end-all solution, nor can they tell you how much it will cost, in both hard currency and effort, nor can they tell you how long it will take. This is of course why, when someone says, it will cost you £3 a month, to help us raise £19,000 to train a guide dog for it’s life span ( say 10 years ), to help an individual blind person it is very easy to bring yourself to donate. But we must remember that the environment and human rights are for our children, and I hope people will agree that even if there is no deadline, nor quantifiable figure for protecting their future, it is definitely worth investment. The environment is under threat now, people’s human rights are being violated today, but with investment and effort they might not be tomorrow. Isn’t that what’s important?


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