You’ll have heard of Stoptober, a national health initiative in which smokers kick the habit during October and, in many cases, raise money for charity while doing so. You’re probably familiar with Movember too, since there’s no avoiding the goof in the office chortling about his “hilarious” new moustache that he hopes makes him look like a Mexican bandit, while pressing send on yet another “Please donate...” email.
Putting aside for a moment the benefits of giving money to save the donkeys/eradicate landmines/raise cancer awareness, you have to wonder whether pledging to not do something – whether it’s lighting a fag or picking up a razor – really qualifies as an act of charity.
Asking us to donate money in order that you can quit smoking is like saying “Give me some cash and I’ll stop punching myself in the face”. Quit, by all means, but don’t try kidding us that you’re doing anything other than giving up an expensive habit that might just kill you.
At this time of year I find myself inundated with missives from friends and colleagues staring bleakly at middle age and requesting that I open my wallet in support of their charitable health kick, or a new and exhausting regime involving sitting about and waiting for their face to sprout. “I’m going to look ridiculous,” the Movember disciple will chuckle. Really? Try wearing an orange wig and lederhosen for a month and then we’ll talk.
When I think of fundraisers such as Eddie Izzard running 43 marathons with suppurating feet, or David Walliams gulping down the nation’s effluent while swimming the Thames, I genuinely marvel at the human capacity for endurance and altruism.
Of course it’s not just celebs doing great things. A fortnight ago my friend Zoe ran five kilometres for Cancer Research UK, despite already being undone with exhaustion from rallying round her mother who has terminal cancer. These are the deeds that prompt me to dig deep.
In recent years, however, charitable fundraising has become a curiously self-centred affair, in which the focus is frequently more on the fundraiser than those for whom they are raising the funds. The rise of online platforms such as JustGiving have made it easy – too easy, perhaps – for us to work loudly through our mid-life crises.
You don’t need to go door to door rattling a tin and making a case for a donation. Now you just need a Facebook profile, some willing follicles and, hey presto, you are officially a Good Person.
So you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t shower you with congratulations and cash at your new-found facial hair, or when, after four weeks’ smoke-free, you find that not only has your vital capacity improved but your current account is looking pretty plump too. I’m all for a good cause, but if it’s sponsorship you’re after, you’ll have to put some effort in first.
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