Goaded into giving

Brian Jones
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Had you been in Santa Barbara, Calif., last week, you could have shelled out $400 to watch Prince William play polo. A bit pricey, but a bargain because you’d also get to watch Duchess Kate watching Wills, and see the perplexing spectacle of Americans gawking at British royalty. Ironies never cease.

If you were in a monarchist mood, you could have dished out $4,000 for a “VIP ticket,” giving you entry to a champagne reception and a chance for a “hello” from either, or both, of the London lovelies.

If you had brought along your chequebook, and happened to be a polo player, you could have paid $50,000 to play against Prince William. Or, if you preferred not to duel against the duke, you could have written a cheque for $100,000, saddled up alongside him and played on his team.

Those paying $400 and those paying $100,000 did it to help others, of course. After all, it was, according to The Associated Press, a “charity polo match.”


Changed notion

The concept of charity has become corrupted.

Perversely, it is no longer considered perverse to charge thousands of dollars for entry into a charity fundraiser, a charity ball, a charity this or a charity that.

A swanky dinner full of the famed and fortuned? For charity, of course.

Charity used to be a last resort, a final effort to help those who were the most destitute, the poorest, the most needful of aid.

Not anymore. Charity is now big business. Ironies never cease, indeed.

The Canadian Press reported this week that, according to the Canada Revenue Agency, there are about 85,000 registered charities in Canada.

That’s a lot of good works. But it’s not all being done by nuns, missionaries and other altruists who live among the downtrodden. Today’s charity industry employs about a million people, including 6,000 who earn more than $120,000 per year.

In our broadened concept of what constitutes “charity,” hospitals, universities, schools and various foundations can obtain charitable status and give tax receipts to donors.


Another era

This might come as a shock to people younger than 30 or so, but there once was a time, within living memory, when the phrases “food bank” and “homeless shelter” had not yet been coined.

A generation ago, when the first food banks were established in Canada’s biggest cities, there was controversy and outrage.

Controversy, because the establishment of food banks signalled a much more unequal and unjust society than most Canadians assumed their country to be.

Outrage, because many Canadians believed collective effort toward alleviating poverty and want was an ideal worth striving for, and food banks were evidence of an abandonment of this ideal.

These sentiments are antiquated.

These days, it is common to be asked, when attending certain events, to “bring an item for the food bank.”


Collecting cash

In the newly “have” economy of Newfoundland (and Labrador), there is no reason why we should have to resort to charity to fund, say, the Janeway hospital.

Perhaps the most disgusting aspect of the modern attitude toward charity is its inroads into our schools.

Students should not have to hold bake sales or sell tickets on a draw in order to have a basketball court or upgraded computers.

Conservatives often declare we can’t expect the government to do everything for us.

True enough.

But we can expect the opposite. We can demand that, collectively, we want certain things done by us, and we want them done through our agent, acting for us — the government. There is a subtle but important difference.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at

The Telegram. He can be reached by

email at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Associated Press, Canadian Press, Canada Revenue Agency The Telegram

Geographic location: Santa Barbara, Calif., London, Canada Newfoundland

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Carl
    July 19, 2011 - 14:19

    I agree with Mr. Jones that our kids should not have to raise money to get proper equipment in their schools, and we should not have to hold fundraising events to equip our hospitals. But, as usual, Mr. Jones does not carry his argument to its natural conclusion: If we don't want our schools and hospitals to draw funding from charitable donations, they we have to do one of two things - either pay higher taxes, or cut government spending elsewhere. So, Mr. Jones, which is it? And if you choose the latter, please tell us where you would cut.

  • Fintip
    July 15, 2011 - 14:19

    The Charitable and Not-for-Profit sector of Canada’s economy is badly in need of reform. It has come to resemble a pyramid, the base of which is comprised of a huge number of caring people who volunteer their time and talents with no other expectation of reward than the knowledge that they are helping someone in need – someone less fortunate than themselves. The middle layer is increasingly dominated by corporations and groups whose sole interest is in making money. These are the professional fund raisers – companies and individuals who have absolutely no interest in the particular charity in whose name they make phone calls, send emails, or deliver solicitations to prospective donors all over the country. For their troubles they generally receive a large chunk of the monies they raise. Milking human kindness – some would say gullibility – is a highly profitable, fast growing industry in which there are few rules protecting the public. At the top of the pyramid are the management and staff of the charity or not-for-profit agency. This group includes well –intentioned, dedicated, honest employees whose earnings are commensurate with their skills and the value of their services. Unfortunately it also includes a large number of people who, like the professional fund raisers, are motivated more by money than the cause their group was created to serve. A side-by-side comparison with either business or government would show that the compensation of these people is often excessive, even outrageous. It would also show that nepotism, waste and pilfering are rampant in the industry. Public disclosure, when it meets the minimum standard required by law, does so in a fashion designed to conceal as much information as possible regarding the actual use of donations. Many Canadians were shocked at the recent revelation, for example, that a mere 22% of donations made to the Canadian Cancer Society actually finds its way into the hands of scientists who carry out cancer research. They should not be shocked. I can remember similar exposes from years ago which showed that less than 10% of monies raised for the world’s starving poor ever translated itself into rice in their bellies. And in his column Mr. Jones makes an important point – government has begun to rely increasingly on charitable donations to fund activities that already are – or should be – within its own mandate. The government practise of funding new construction and equipment purchases indirectly from private donations is (like Canada’s lottery system) essentially a volunteer tax. That might be defensible if donors could be assured they were getting value for their money but that is rarely the case. Government is already well aware that funding activities that are a high public priority – such as medical research and hospital equipment - can be achieved more efficiently by adjusting the tax rate. But government is also aware that, from a voter perspective, paying $100 in taxes and donating $100 to a charity is more palatable than paying $150 in taxes in a way that combines both needs. That perception will continue until the public begins to understand the enormous waste in time and money associated with the charitable, not-for-profit models now widely relied upon to deliver basic services and supports to which every Canadian should be entitled where circumstances warrant without having to resort to charity. A truly progressive government would remove from the realm of charities those causes that are more accurately and appropriately the responsibility of government, while at the same time introducing reforms to the charitable sector to ensure that the funding of the remaining discretionary but worthwhile causes is conducted in a much more transparent, accountable manner than is presently the case.

  • Cyril Rogers
    July 15, 2011 - 10:51

    Brian, I have always believed that any society that fails to find dignified ways to feed its poor is in danger of losing its moral compass. Globally, we spend enough on war and armaments every year to feed everybody on the planet multiples times over. Wealth distribution is hopelessly skewed in favour of wealthy corporations and individuals! Society continues its relentless march toward over-development, and ultimately self-destruction, while the poor and dispossessed either die or live without adequate shelter or food.