Ellie Levenson: A less than charitable approach by sponsors

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The Independent Online

I didn't raise much sponsorship money as a child. This wasn't because I didn't like to run very far or couldn't stick to a 24-hour famine, though that is true also, but because I wasn't allowed to ask anyone other than close friends and family to sponsor me. I was given several reasons for this including that doorstep blagging is dangerous, that some people cannot afford it but feel unable to say no, particularly to children, and that people might not support the aims of the chosen charity. This is not to say that my family were against charitable giving, but that blackmailing people into it by making them disappoint an enthusiastic child if they said no was not the way to go about it.

Now I am grown up, the rules have all changed. Barely a week goes by without me being asked to sponsor an adult friend, and the past few weeks have seen several requests as the London Marathon approaches. If I were to say yes to them all, I would be in need of charity myself. But even though we are not children any more, it is still pretty awkward to say no to sponsoring someone, not least because the person seeking sponsorship often needs to raise a specific target to be allowed to join in an event, so not giving makes you feel like you are personally responsible for thwarting their ambitions.

Not only that but, with the rise of sites like www.justgiving.com, which generate online sponsorship forms accessible by all, everyone can see how much you sponsor, giving ample opportunity for you to look mean.

I know this is possible because I once had a very interesting afternoon looking up the Justgiving pages of famous people I knew were doing sponsored events (all those journalists sanctimoniously writing about doing the bloody marathon) to see how much their other famous chums were sponsoring them. Incidentally, Justgiving doesn't just raise money out of the goodness of its heart – it is a profit-making company charging charities a monthly fee to benefit from the site and taking a five per cent commission on all donations.

But though it is fun to be a snoop, I am uncomfortable about people seeing what I choose to give, not least because people have no idea how much I may have given to other people already. Nor should they. Maimonides, a Rabbi and philosopher in the Middle Ages, came up with eight degrees of charity from the best to the worst, though all better than not giving to charity at all. Giving gladly, without being asked, where both the giver and receiver are anonymous and your donation leads to self-sufficiency is, he said, better than waiting to be asked, knowing who you are giving to and being sulky about it.

Even if I hadn't heard of Maimonides' scale, which I try to use as a guide in my own donations, I also object to tying charitable giving into arbitrary targets, not least because it is rare to be offered your money back if people fail to complete their self-imposed challenge. But none of this gets my goat as much as adults seeking sponsorship for what are essentially fun holidays – cycling across continents, running across deserts, trekking across glaciers, that kind of thing.

Anyone pretending they are doing this just for charitable reasons is fooling themselves as well as all their friends who donate. If they were truly concerned with just raising money, or if they really just wanted to test their limits, they would eschew the exotic and seek sponsorship for far less glamourous events in far less exciting places. A three-legged race from Scunthorpe to Luton, anyone?

In praise of marvellous Margaret

I am not sure that any of the men currently appearing in The Apprentice would necessarily get to the second round interview, should I be looking for a personal assistant, but they would all do better than the women they are competing against.

Though it goes against every feminist bone in my body to brand the women bitchy and stupid, I'm afraid both are true. Just look at Jenny in last week's dry-cleaning task, clearly bullying Lucinda and hogging the conch with phrases she probably learnt on a management course run by David Brent.

Luckily we've got the marvellous Margaret Mountford advising Sir Alan Sugar and showing women can be every bit as successful, authoritative and business-minded as any man.

* The village of Lunt, near Crosby in Merseyside, is considering changing its name because vandals persistently graffiti the L to a C.

It might be a good idea to put efforts into trying to catch the vandals, rather than change a name that has existed since the Middle Ages – not least because I suspect that if the vandals are denied the chance to make this rather witty linguistic joke, they may just revert back to old-fashioned methods of being rude, such as graffiti pictures of penises or random swear words. The village would then have the double ignominy of this and a name with no heritage.

Then again, I am not a good arbiter of taste on this issue – on my kitchen wall I have a wonderful print by the artist Ian Stevenson which boldly declares "I cunt spell".

I laugh every time I look at it, though I have tried to cover it up with the ironing board when potential buyers have come to view the property.

ellie@levenson.net

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