When a Little means a Lot

Australians have long had a reputation as generous donors to charity, particularly on an individual basis. But in the climate of increasing coldness towards refugees worldwide and fears of "donor fatigue", Amanda Rankin explores if that image still holds true.

Australians have long had a reputation as generousdonors to charity, particularly on an individual basis.But in the climate of increasing coldness towards refugeesworldwide and fears of "donor fatigue", Amanda Rankinexplores if that image still holds true.

When my daughter was born I sponsored a child throughWorld Vision in her name. It seemed like a humble gesture.A thanks to the universe for the birth of a healthychild whom I could feed without fear of starvation,and hopefully a gentle lesson to my daughter about hergood fortune and the suffering of others. It has beena surprising experience that involves far more thana withdrawal from my credit card each month. We receiveletters from the sponsored child, we send her birthdaycards, we follow her progress, a photo of her sits onmy daughter's dresser. More importantly, we remain awareof the plight of other human beings and aware of thefact that we can make a difference.

The word "philanthropy" comes from the Greek rootphil, which means love, and anthropos, which means human,making philanthropists lovers of humankind. And thislove dates way back to Moses, who appears to be theoriginator of the "tithe", which meant giving one tenthof the harvest to the Lord to be used to support thereligious system and the poor. Confucius (551-478BC)also encouraged philanthropy, stating: "He who wishesto secure the good of others has already secured hisown."

Today, with the ever growing disparity between therich and the poor, there is even more need for philanthropicorganisations and individuals. The USA comes out ontop of the list of philanthropists, with about US$150billion donated to non-profit organisations, of whichnearly 90 per cent comes from individuals. They mightbe chewing up the world's resources but at least they'regiving something back.

According to statistics, Australia's philanthropicsector totals about $5.4 billion a year, with individualdonations accounting for $3 billion and businesses $2billion. Government support for non-profit organisationstotals about $8.5 billion a year. Seventy one per centof the Australian population 15 years and over gaveto non-profit organisations in 1997, and 19 per centof the population volunteered a total of 433.9 millionhours to non-profit organisations in 1994/95. It isan interesting comparison that Australians lost at gamblingalmost four times the sum donated to non-profit organisations.

According to the "Giving Trends" Annual Report 2000(supplied by O'Keefe and Partners), Australians donateto a vast range of charities but the top three are TheSalvation Army, Red Cross Australia and World Vision.In fact, religion is the most popular choice for donations,followed by community/welfare, education/ research andoverseas aid.

So what makes a successful charity? Like any otherproduct or service, it is all in the marketing. "Fundraisingtoday demands vision and innovation - and the skillsand resources to implement well-targeted, market-responsivestrategies" states the "Giving Trends" Annual Report.A sad way of looking at saving lives perhaps, but whenyou consider the impact of a World Vision TV commercial,smart marketing is obviously the only way to bring inthe dollars.

On the subject of saving lives, why should we donateour hard earned money to help others? And how much helpis the few dollars that we can afford to give each month?For starters, globally 1.2 billion people survive onless than two dollars a day and the World Bank President,James Wolfensohn, claims that by 2002 as many as 10million more people are likely to live on less thanone dollar a day. Following the terrorist attacks inthe United States, Wolfensohn also warned that "tensof thousands more children will die worldwide" as aresult of lower economic growth. The UN has estimatedthat 100,000 children will die this winter in Afghanistanif aid doesn't urgently reach these displaced people.So yes, even a few dollars can help.

World Vision stands for "freedom, justice, peace andopportunity for everyone in the world". Over 70 centsin every dollar raised by World Vision Australia goesto overseas aid in 56 countries and the remainder staysin Australia where it is used in public education, contributingto the lives of indigenous Australians, and for generaladministration and fund-raising costs.

The total revenue for the year 2000 was $148.1 million,an increase of $22 million on the previous year. Andif you're curious about what percentage of your donationactually makes it to communities in need, general administrationcosts were 9.8 cents per dollar. World Vision Australiais best known for its Child Sponsorship programs, allowingAustralians to at least feel they are helping less fortunatechildren on an individual level. I say feel becauseit is fairly obvious that the money doesn't go directlyto the sponsored child for a number of practical reasons.This seems to be a common if cynical reason for notsponsoring a child but I would argue that it's a prettyfeeble excuse for not digging deep. Financial accountabilityis fundamental to the operation of all successful charitiesand anyone can access the financial reports of thesecharities to find out where the money goes. All charitiesare also carefully audited by various government bodies.

So where does your $35 a month child sponsorship go?Although you receive a photo and information about yoursponsored child, the money goes towards the entire communityin which the child lives. It might go towards schoolfees, food and vitamins, and medical and dental carefor the children. Or some of the funds will be usedto make improvements to agriculture, or to dig wells,or teaching hygiene and nutrition to mothers - basicallywhatever is needed to help that particular community.World Vision believes that giving money directly toone child is counter-productive, creating jealousy andresentment within the community.

At the close of the 2000 financial year, almost 234,000children were sponsored by Australians, which adds upto a lot of support to these poor communities mostlyin Africa, South America and Asia.

The Salvation Army was deemed the most successful charityin the "Giving Trends" 2000 Annual Report, suggestingthat Christianity is still a powerful force in Australia.Devotion to God and a commitment to spreading the goodnews of Jesus Christ sums up the good people of TheSalvation Army and fuels their commitment to helpingpeople in need. "Thank God for the Salvos" has beenthe media catchcry for decades and in Australia TheSalvation Army has become an integral part of charitablesociety. It was started way back in 1878 by a "passionate,thunderous Englishman", William Booth, and his wifeCatherine who offered soup, soap and salvation to theimpoverished. Booth believed he was at war against sinand, consequently, members were called soldiers andwore uniforms. Today's members are still "sworn-in"and must sign the "Articles of War", promising to loveGod and serve him through The Salvation Army.

The Salvos "invaded" Australia in 1903, with the soldierssoon gaining a reputation of "Christianity with itssleeves rolled up". Today, with the role of the Churchgreatly diminished in society, the Salvos offer assistanceto those in need, particularly the homeless, in Australia.We might be perceived as the lucky country, but in 1998approximately 55,000 people were homeless in Australia.Add to that figure the 125,000 people who sought assistancefrom homelessness services and it's easy to see whyit is important to help those within our own country.

Due to the Salvationists' stance of total abstinence,the Salvos' work with alcoholics and substance abusersis also an important area. The late Major Barbara Boltonwrote: "The Salvation Army sees alcoholism and drugaddiction as one of the most serious problems of a societythat surrounds people with the allure of stimulants- and rejects those that get caught in over-use."

The Australian public donate to The Salvation Armythrough its Red Shield Appeal, and this money goes directlyinto helping those in need, with 16 cents in the dollarused to cover administrative expenses and advertising.

The Australian Red Cross has been helping Australianssince1914, inspired by seven core principles: humanity,impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service,unity and universality. With more than 130,000 trainedvolunteers and 70 free programs and services aroundAustralia, Red Cross is mostly funded by public donationand corporate partnership. In the year 1999 to 2000,it raised $5,794,000 through Red Cross Calling and $6,416,000through International Appeals. Of course, the Red Crossis not just about convincing Australians to part withtheir money. During that same year, 965,043 blood donationswere collected and 108,676 meals were delivered by 994Meals on Wheels volunteers.

On an international level, Red Cross is currentlyfocused on transporting medical and relief items tothe countries surrounding Afghanistan and into Afghanistanitself, before the winter arrives. In addition to the1.1 million people who were forced to leave their homesin Afghanistan prior to the terrorist attack on September11, there are reported to be another 180,000 peopledisplaced inside the devastated country and another60,000 Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

"We are a wealthy country situated in the region wherethree quarters of the world's poorest people live. Wecan readily contribute much more than we do," says LynnArnold, Chief Executive of World Vision Australia. IndividualAustralians might be digging deep, but if the AustralianGovernment increased its aid target by just 0.4 percent, a level which Arnold believes would not raisetaxes, an additional $1 billion would be available tofight global poverty.

Around the globe 30,000 children die of starvationeach day, so as you read these words, somewhere a childhas just died. If that child was lying outside yourfront door, could you allow him or her to die so tragically?

The sooner we take responsibility for the welfareof all human life, the sooner millions of victims inthe world will be free of suffering.


(Source: The Australian Non-profitData Project Centre for Australian Community Organisationsand Management, University of Technology, Sydney).