There is a strange relationship between our money and our ability to give it away. How many times have you said ‘Keep the change’ because you don’t want coins weighing down your purse or pocket? How many times do you throw your odd bits of cash into a charity collection box at a till, probably for the same reason?
Yet, if I asked you to donate, you might respond differently – maybe money is tight at home, perhaps your donation won’t make any difference because it’s a drop in the ocean, or perhaps the charity might spend your donation unwisely. It leads me to think that humans are better at donating when they have done it unconsciously and accidentally and not made
a decision to do it.
So why donate at all?
Well, I guess the obvious reason is because it does make a difference. The Silver Line, a helpline offering friendship and support to older people, couldn’t survive without numerous individuals’ support. If you asked me whether I would prefer £1 million from one generous, wealthy person or £1 from one million people, I would always pick the latter. It would bring huge benefits in terms of awareness and future goodwill, and help us to build an army of supporters who would hopefully end up being long-term givers.
And donating money brings big rewards to the person doing the giving, too. Firstly, you get the sense of achievement that comes with giving something rather than receiving it. You stop thinking about your money as a piece of paper or a metal coin – it becomes a shelter for a homeless person, a bag of rice, a phone call for someone who is desperate and in need.
Donating your money – or time, to raise money – can make you an inspiration and a catalyst for your friends, family and wider community, too. It will take a city the size of London to provide the resources to find a cure for some diseases. But to get the city you need the street first – and you probably live on a street. Collecting money locally or completing a challenge, such as a charity parachute jump, can get people rallying around a cause – giving breeds giving – even if it’s just because your loved ones will pay good money to see you jump out of a plane!
If your children or grandchildren see you donating time and cash to charity, they are more likely to develop a giving mindset, too. A friend told me that last Christmas her ten-year-old daughter was shopping with her and asked if she could use some of her Christmas money to sponsor an African child, rather than spend it all on herself.
The feelgood factor
Brits are generous – we donated £9.7 billion to charitable causes in 2016. According to a 2017 Charities Aid Foundation report, people are becoming more charitable, the typical monthly amount donated is £18 and medical research is the most popular cause. We do lag behind America in terms of donations, though, perhaps because there seems to be more of a social expectation to give in the US, and wealthy philanthropists are revered and celebrated, whereas we have a more reserved approach.
However, the Labour peer Lord Sainsbury (great-grandson of the supermarket’s founder, with an estimated family fortune of £560 million) can provide another argument for the benefits of giving. He and his wife are part of the Giving Pledge, the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett-led initiative whereby the world’s richest people set aside at least half of their wealth for charity. ‘We do not believe that spending any more money on ourselves or our family would add anything to our happiness,’ Lord Sainsbury wrote in his pledging letter. ‘However, using it to support social progress we have found deeply fulfilling.’ We can’t all give away such a large portion of our income, but the sense of fulfilment can be just the same.
Often, giving money provides a satisfying feeling of being part of some collective surge of goodwill. I am reminded of the story of Claire Squires, a 30-year-old hairdresser who set off to run the London Marathon in April 2012, with a fundraising target of £500 in aid of Samaritans. A few hundred yards from the finishing line, Claire collapsed and died.
The story hit the news and overnight the donations started pouring in – far from her original modest target, she raised £1 million. Her story touched the nation and, through the outpouring of grief and sympathy for her family and friends, people gave not to Samaritans, per se, but because they ‘wanted to do something’ and show their support in the wake of the tragedy.
Similarly, I read recently that a small UK business had provided every member of its management team with a special one-off cash bonus on the understanding that they would each give it to charity. They then held a management awayday and asked the employees to share their experiences. Not only did the staff feel good about the giving, but the shared, positive act strengthened the team’s collective consciousness and boosted their confidence. They all still donate to their chosen cause – using their own money this time!
Carry on giving
So, we know that we all have the ability to give, in large or small amounts, and we also know that there are huge benefits in terms of what this brings to us as individuals – from an increased sense of self-worth and purpose to connecting with people of shared interests and motivations, which in turn infuses our everyday life with more meaning.
As much as we might deplore the needless pursuit of money, it is the one currency in life that unites us. Next time you say ‘Keep the change’ or put a coin in a charity tin, make your decision a conscious one rather than incidental. And I promise you, The Silver Line will spend your money wisely.
Sophie is CEO of The Silver Line and a trustee of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home
To donate to The Silver Line, visit thesilverline.org.uk or call 020 7224 2020 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5.30pm)