I know what you’re thinking, what an obvious question. And yes! You should give money to charity if you can. Article done. But you see: it’s more complicated than that.
And with a deep sigh, let’s talk about Tiktok, where all the best, most high-brow, analytical articles start. You see, I've spent a few years curating my For You page to be, well, exactly for me, requesting to not see certain content and interacting with the niche-est of interests of mine that pop up. But recently something has changed. In August 2020 Tiktok released the creator fund, with accounts with over 10k followers could apply to receive an income from Tiktok for the content they make. Once used to inspire creatives and promote loyalty to the platform, more so now it has become a vessel of hope for desperate people, when unable to work and needing money fast, Tiktok has become a place to turn to. My For You page is almost entirely people at risk of homelessness fundraising for temporary housing, those who need money for life saving medical procedures and families saving for lawyers after their loved ones had been killed by police - all voicing their cause and begging for viewers to interact. Of course, I interact, and the more I interact the more I only see these videos. Sometimes, these people meet their goals, sometimes they don’t. Still, I can’t help but to imagine what happens when they need the next month of rent for housing? How will they pay for the surgery aftercare? What happens next when your entire income is based around a feeble app which spotlights videos in flux and intentionally hides content of people of colour, people with disabilities and people of low SES?
Of course, we shouldn’t get rid of it now, everyone is entitled to an income and we should give help when we can. Still, there should be another way.
This is how I feel about charity. Charity’s existence is intrinsic to Capitalism, as long as there are inadequate welfare systems, the safety of millions is entirely dependent on whether some people are feeling generous this month. Charity wouldn’t feel like an obligation if the government didn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on anti-homeless architecture and instead invested in temporary housing, rehabilitation programs and economic counselling for the homeless. Charity is merely a band-aid over a crack in an aquarium: the tank’s glass is shattered, the room has already flooded well above our ankles and the leaks are appearing at an uncontrollable rate, so…are you feeling generous?
“Would you like to buy a $10 tote bag? The proceeds go to ...children! Children, in need, somewhere, trust me, they are REALLY in need.”
Yeah, a lot of businesses do this, why is everyone so charitable suddenly? Must be in Vogue. For those of you who didn’t know, businesses use charity campaigns as tax deductions in their name, so as much as you are helping those in need, you are equally helping the multi-million or billion-dollar corporation not pay their fair share. That’s why we have brands like Victoria’s Secret and UNIQLO who have mental health and drinking water charity initiatives, but both previously have used forced child labour, and continue to use slave labour. This phenomenon also happens with the world's richest. Many are quick to defend the extremely high injury rates in Amazon factories or how Tesla uses child labour in the Congo to mine cobalt for lithium batteries, because Jeff and Elon donate to charity, so, they must be “nice guys”. Going back to the use of donations as tax deductions, when you think about it it’s kind of utilitarian: does the benefit towards those marginalised in society justify the business being a little shady? It’s your call to make. I would suggest asking to make the donation in your own name, if they say no, then go home and give directly to the aforementioned organisation.
So, is donating to charity worth it?
Sure, there is corruption in humanitarian organisations, many charities spend more on marketing than helping people and donating to charity isn’t realistic for some people. But, at the end of the day, doesn’t it just feel good to do a good thing? Despite everything, the money will reach someone, and it will make a difference, maybe a small one, but it still matters. If you have a disposable income there is nothing to lose. Still if you are (understandably) hesitant about donating to charity, here are some more reliable options:
Try charities like GiveDirectly, Doctors Without Borders, Colour of Change, donate to the Royal Fire Service or the bail funds of protesters
Buy from Social Enterprises instead of chains and big business
Give directly to people/families in need through apps like Venmo or Cash App
Give to your local food bank
Participate in the Loreto initiatives when they come around
In reality, charity will not fix these problems - only political reform will. But, in the meantime we shouldn’t completely dismiss charity as a tool to make meaningful change. All things considered, all we can do is try to be a bit better every day, in whatever way that may be.