Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I don't like Red Nose Day

This Friday is Red Nose Day, the biannual fundraising event put on by Comic Relief.

It is huge. Massive. Utterly enormous. A juggernaut of a good cause.

The last Red Nose Day, in 2011, raised a staggering amount of money. £108,436,277. That is a big pile of cash. You know that bit at the start of 80s kids' TV favourite Duck Tales, where Scrooge McDuck goes swimming in his mountain of coins? Well, it's more money than that.

A. Lot. Of. Money.

Which is good, because you NEED a lot of money to have a stab at sorting out some of the world's problems. Lots of money can do lots of good, and I'm reasonably sure that Comic Relief is doing lots of good with the money it raises.

Still, here I am, writing a blog post about why I don't like Red Nose Day (and, by extension, Comic Relief). Erk.

Let me first clarify something: I am not anti-charity. I am not anti-fundraising. I work for a charity. As a fundraiser. I have nothing but admiration for the efforts of people like Team Honk, who are traipsing all over the place and doing all sorts of challenges to raise money for Red Nose Day. Good on them.

But Red Nose Day bothers me for several reasons. Here are a couple of them:

1. Enforced jollity. I know some people have a "fun" switch, which they can turn on and off at will, and even without the assistance of alcohol, but I don't. Get all up in my face dressed as a clown and shaking a bucket and I will be as likely to give you a quick kick in the shin as I am to donate money. The trouble with the concept of doing something funny for money, is that most people are deeply UNfunny. Putting a red plastic prosthetic on your proboscis will not alter that. In fact, it will probably just highlight it.

I love fun. I just like it to be spontaneous and genuine.

2. Celebrity. Predictable of me, I know, but I can't help it. Seeing the Bonos, Geldofs and Henrys of the world earnestly pleading for a donation makes my skin itch. If I could reach into the screen and gaffer tape their mouths closed I would.

If a celebrity wants to convince me to make a donation here's how they should do it: "If you want to donate £1 to Comic Relief, text DONATELENNY to 80077. For every £1 received that way, I will personally donate the same, because I realise that I am rich as fuck and you, most likely, are not."

I appreciate, of course, that many of the celebrities involved are also giving their own cash to the cause. I'd just like to have it confirmed.

But those are nothing really. Personal gripes. Frivolous, self indulgent moans. The main reason I dislike Red Nose Day is this: it promotes uninformed charitable donations.

When you send that text, donating £5, £10, £20, whatever, how much thought have you given to where that money will end up? What causes it will support? What good it will do?

Not much, I reckon. You donate a bit of money because it's Red Nose Day. Because that's what you do on Red Nose Day. Because the aesthetically pleasing person on the TV screen encouraged you. Because the film of someone suffering affected you.

Sure, the money you donate will more than likely have a positive impact on someone. But you're not choosing those beneficiaries, Comic Relief is.

Here's (roughly) how Comic Relief works:

1. You and thousands of others donate your money to them.
2. They set their priorities for spending the money you donate.
3. They pool all the donations (less cost of raising them) and invite other charities to apply for a Comic Relief grant. Only charities doing work within Comic Relief's stated priorities are eligible to apply.
4. They choose which of the thousands of applications are supported, and the charity which applied does the work.

There are so many charities in the UK doing amazing work. In my opinion, as a potential donor, it is your duty to be diligent in your charitable giving. To research charities as you would research anything else you intend to spend money on. To find the charities which are doing the work which you feel the strongest about, the causes you truly believe in.

Once you've worked out which charities you like, make a donation.

Comic Relief is a shouty charity. It comes onto your telly once each year (they do Sport Relief in the years they don't do Red Nose Day) and makes lots of noise. It is backed by masses of people in the entertainment industry, people who are good at making their voices heard. It has a huge budget available to encourage donations.

Small, local charities will never be able to do the sort of high profile fundraising that Comic Relief does. In fact, even some of the UK's biggest charities couldn't hope to spend what Comic Relief does on raising money.

I'm not saying you shouldn't give your money to Comic Relief. I'm saying I hope you can resist the glitz, the glamour and the ubiquity of Red Nose Day and donate because you truly believe in what they're doing. The information is there, on their website, in their published accounts on the Charity Commission's website.

I don't like Red Nose Day because it lets us take the easy option in our charitable giving. Charitable giving shouldn't just be about supporting the most visible cause.

What do you think? Have I got it all wrong? Do I underestimate how informed the Comic Relief donors really are? Please, let me know.


  1. Totally agree. I find the forced jolity hard to swallow as I have a child who HATES the sort of "lets all be silly and act out in public" things school do for comic relief. He'd be much happier to just hand his pound over to wear non uniform for the day and have things go on as normal.

    1. No-one should ever be forced into these things, but I'm sure it does happen :-(

      I hope Friday isn't too stressful for your littl'un.

  2. Agree. The most toe-curling thing this year is Great British Menu. It has proved that food inherently isn't that funny. And that chefs generally don't have a sense of humour. I watch for the food but really some of this year has been utterly cringeworthy.

    1. Chefs? No sense of humour? Surely not! Is that the one where they all sort of chide each other over the dishes they're cooking?

  3. But, FUNNY. Look at the FUNNY. Look how FUNNY they all are! No? Oh OK then.

    I think you're absolutely correct. I need to know where my money's going, I don't like the thought of it disappearing into a vast machine. I didn't know how Comic Relief 'worked', thanks for explaining that.

    But, saying that, it IS a good way bring awareness to people who might not necessarily follow news stories/world events etc. If you see what I mean.

    And some of it is funny. ;)

    Great post! Glad you wrote it.

    1. Oh yes, it is not without its good points. Overall though, I'll give it a miss ta :-)

      Thanks for encouraging me #badinfluence

  4. Generally I think people do tend to give blindly. I don't generally like to give to large charities for having worked for one I certainly understand that it has a very small ripple effect and prefer to give to smaller causes. I know when giving to larger charities you can sometimes specify which particular project you would like the money to go towards and I have raised money for the charity I worked for in that way.

    One of the things I struggle with is that most causes tend to be international instead of at home and there is so much that needs to be supported in Britain. Don't get me wrong I certainly understand there is a very great need there that needs to be promoted (I am from a third world country myself) and supported but sometimes I feel it happens to the neglect of smalller projects here that are trying to do good work but maybe pale in comparison.

    PS *whispers* I don't mind people being silly if it is for a good cause.

    1. Specifying a project is a good way to ensure your money is going to the specific area of a charity you're interested in, and any good charity should allow you to do this (although, in reality, they'd all prefer you to leave the income as "unrestricted")

      Comic Relief have struggled with a perception that they're giving too much away overseas in the past, you can tell by how much of an emphasis they put on UK projects during the show. There are certainly no shortage of great projects in the UK, many of which may be at risk of closure due to various cuts.

      As for silly: I don't mind other people doing it, just not next to me ;-)

      Thanks for reading and commenting :-)

  5. Don't you think that without the 'shouty' part some people wouldn't donate at all? The type of person who researches their charitable donation and thinks about it subjectively is likely to always donate. Without the 'easy' option of donating to prominent fundraising campaigns I doubt as much money would be raised.

    Also who actually makes a decision to give based on cold hard facts of the good work a charity does without any emotional motivation? The donkey sanctuary raises more money than the top three domestic violence charities put together. Do donkeys really need more help or are they just fluffier? I used to work as a fundraiser for a health charity and the majority of the donors were dying from the diseases we raised money for. Everybody needs a reason to give and I'm not bothered if Lenny Henry is that reason for some people.

    If people are moved by the clips, laugh at the forced fun and open their wallets I think Comic Relief is justified. More power to them, I say.

    1. You're right, of course. This is the aspect I chose to leave out of my post because it doesn't really fit with how I feel about it ;-)

      What I would like to know more about is the average donor profile of people who donate via the "easy" option. If lots of the donations to Comic Relief are from people who don't really have the money to spare, I might prefer it to stay in their pockets.

      I could write another post about the relative success (in fundraising terms) of certain causes, animal charities being one of the more successful ones and how I feel about that. Maybe I will one day, if I find myself suitably irritated by it...

      As I said, no problem with Comic Relief, would just prefer to think people were giving for a bit more of a reason than "oh look, it's Comic Relief". More than happy for people to disagree with me though!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment :-)

  6. I've worked for some of the 'small, local' charities you're talking about. No names mentioned but some of them are awful, ineffecient, and badly run. Not all of them but there's a hell of a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in small charities and people who can't really run an organisation trying to run them. I've worked for one bigger charity (briefly) and to be honest it gave me a much better impression.

    I agree with the rest of your comments though. I don't like the association of giving with crapness and cringing. I quite like, in some ways, the Victorian attitude to philanthropy, if you had money, build something bloody solid and unfunny with a load of brass railings and expect people to be impressed by it. Because actually there's nothing funny or embarrassing at all about doing things for your fellow citiens. I'm not suggesting that it substitutes for a welfare state, mind. Just that it's ok to take the whole thing seriously, and accord it a bit of respect. There isn't really anything intrinsically amusing about an art gallery or a hospital.

    1. My ideal is a smaller charity with a good leadership team, and a clear vision of what they want to achieve.

      Old school philanthropy is still around, of course, and some of the large, generalist grantmakers have a long history.

      A bit more solidarity and citizenship can't be a bad thing.

      Thanks for reading :-)

  7. I hadn't thought about it like that before but you make excellent points. We should definitely research more when giving to charity.

    1. Glad it made you think :-) It needn't be too onerous, just a bit more research than none!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. I agree with you. If people want to donate to Comic Relief and fundraise then I will cheer them on and do what I can to support them. However I would like the same respect when I choose to give my donation to Richard House. Charity is individual and like religion is a personal choice.

    Great post.

    1. Thank you for reading.

      Everyone has their own reasons for giving, and everyone's reasons should be afforded the respect they deserve, I completely agree.

  9. I completely agree, I have kept very quiet about Red Nose Day for these reasons. My partner works for a small, local charity and they are struggling. Really struggling. But they do really good work and make a huge difference to the local community. We strongly suspect they will go under and it makes me so sad.

    1. How are they funded? There are a lot of charities struggling these days, it's all part of the drive for austerity.

      It's a shame to see organisations which do good work at risk of closure, but they can't be expected to keep operating with no money.

  10. Wholeheartedly agree with all your points! Especially the shouty bit...

  11. I agree with you to a large extent - especially about the forced jollity bit - although I would also say that this gives charities which are often overlooked an opportunity to get access to much-needed funding. I'll donate something to Comic Relief and Children in Need simply because giving something is better than giving nothing, but the bulk of my giving every year is targeted, which I'm much happier with. (I donate to four chartities which are close to my heart direct from my monthly salary.) I'd certainly encourage others to do the same rather than just dash off £20 or whatever just because Lenny Henry's on the telly.

  12. I do agree with your points, and I personally like to research what charities I give to but I do think that this is a way to get people that wouldn't usually donate to give. I would sponsor someone I knew for comic relief though Probably double standards ;-)

  13. Some of it is very cringeworthy I have to admit - like that dance programme (Is that Comic Relief?), its like Noooo please don't do that. There are some really classic moments I love like the Dawn French and Hugh Grant kiss and I'd love it if they did more like that. I also loved the Catherine Tate / James Bond sketch :). I did bawl through the entire Comic Relief last year though - I think I've become a wuss in my old age.

  14. You are spot on with this post, I admire the people who have been fundraising but I feel like it's being rammed down my throat. Almost like a virtual version of those people who accost you as you walk down the high street working for various charities. I also don't like the funniness being in my face. Call me controversial and I don't mean to offend or perhaps I'm wrong, but I'd like to see more money being spent in the uk. We shouldn't have child poverty in this country, but I suppose that's a different topic all together