Christmas Charity - How do you decide when to give?

It has become quite fashionable to take part in events for charity - sponsored walks, swimathons, bungee jumps, desert treks and other such activities. I have mixed feelings about some of these events. I think if you want to bungee jump, you should cover the cost of the actual jump, and all donations go to charity. This isn't always the case, as it is possible to use donations to cover the cost.

I appreciate that events can raise awareness, and that any extra money for charity is worthwhile. I know that many people take part in these events with a heart  of gold, and that lots of cash is raised.

I think what makes me feel most uncomfortable about some of these events is the pressue put on to donate. I have found that I can often have many friends taking part in various events all at the same time. I may receieve repeat email requests, facebook requests and twitter requests. I may be reminded that the cost of a magazine and a Starbucks would be welcome.

My resolution not to donate to any charity events in this way can make me seem cold and mean. However, I personally prefer to choose my own charity donations, and having a blanket 'no' takes away any pressure to donate to all, or some of the many requests I get.

For now, my regular charity choice is to sponsor a child. I started sponsoring Anne when I was at university, as I believed that £20 a month was less than one night out getting bladdered. It must be over 5 years I have sponsored her now, and I even took the opportunity to visit her.

                      

I chose the charity Out of Afrika as it was a small charity, with no board of directors, no advertising, and the head of the charity still works regularly in Kenya. I felt that this charity would be most able to use my money with the most direct effect.

I stayed with the co-founder (the volunteer flats hadn't been built yet!) and I set up and ran a short computer programme for the college staff. The college was built and is run by Out of Afrika after they discovered that their sponsored children (once they became adults) couldn't afford to continue education. The college takes fees from 'normal' students and then can subsidise the fees for sponsored children.

I learnt a lot when I was there, and discovered some interesting things - for example, the charity trialled giving goats to families to start a business with, but found that families would eat it when food was scarce, and therefore it didn't provide the long term solution it had been planned for. They used to give the families money to buy school uniforms, but often the money was spent elsewhere. They now pay a tailor directly to visit all of the children at school and measure them there - ensuring they all have the uniforms that the schools require.

There is no single answer. How and where you choose to donate is a very personal choice. Whether you choose to donate in Britain, abroad, for the elderly or for children, animals, illnesses, political freedoms or whatever other charity feels right for you. Whether you prefer to do a sponsored event, to sponsor someone doing an event, to pay regularly via a direct debit, or whether you always pop some change into a rattling bucket. You may choose to get more involved - helping out at a soup kitchen, teaching children to read, visiting a lonely pensioner - all acts of charity have a positive outcome. We all have to make our own personal choices about how best to use our time or money.