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Charities, be more charitable

November 24, 2016 23:20

There's a flattering hypothesis which prevails when, like me, you work as a journalist and sometime broadcaster. That you spend your working day shmoozing with "stars".

But although I regularly meet my fair share of so-called public figures (if you can label X Factor reject Rylan this way) and interview many well-known people, I'm not on their Christmas card lists.

Still, inevitable connections are made. Which is why I'm sometimes asked by those who are involved with local charities if I can secure a ''name'' for their event.

It's not that easy. But if I can fast-track an email or procure a mobile number, then I'm only too glad to try and help. It's an easy mitzvah to net, so why not.

So it was, several months ago, that one such contact approached me about a controversial television personality she was desperate to secure for a charity event. And could I ask him to do it for nothing? I'm proud to say I pulled it off. And it was a great success. The showbiz guest was a peach who wowed the audience and what's more promised to do more for this particular cause. A prized reaction since this charity was a provincial one with none of the fabled London backing.

Maybe it doesn’t matter if we steal each other's celebrity ideas

So far, so good. But, a few weeks ago, my anguished charity contact got in touch to say she had learned that, on the evening of her event, the celeb had been approached by a much larger charity, after one of its representatives attended the fundraiser. It transpires they have decided to stage a copycat event headlined by this same personality.

So what, you might say? It's all for a good cause. As Jews, we can really only count on our own to support our causes. And since the Jewish Charity Guide lists more than 520 UK-registered Jewish charities serving the community at home, in Israel and throughout the world, that's a lot of people to help.

But I began to reflect on what had happened. For, although there are lots of charities which need help, there's a limited pool of people to sell tickets to. Especially out in the provinces.

So, in the case of this particular celebrity, even if he will be speaking to a slightly different dynamic at the copycat event, if the original charity try to use him again, there's every chance that a general fatigue will prevail from having heard his name mentioned too often in our small, little gene pool.

Out here in the provinces, where it's not so easy to ask Nigella to jump in a taxi to JW3 for an hour-long fundraiser, it's extremely difficult to get people to appear without paying them.

Perhaps, one could argue, we need to make hay with whomever is willing to do the northern circuit, even if that means treading on each other's ideas.

Yet I can't help thinking it is utterly bad form to commit such wholesale poaching of both guest and idea. A straw poll among other charity workers from different causes all unanimously agreed there is an unspoken agreement not to pinch each other's ideas.

So, how does one solve the intractable issue of provincial or small-time fundraising? Often it's down to money. In Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow there have, over the years, been some seriously starry dinners - but only thanks to the largesse of a benevolent underwriter.

Then there is the issue of geography. Only recently I was approached by a local charity to help secure a ''name'' for a special gala dinner. My efforts came to nothing because the need to travel ''oop North'' killed the deal.

So when local charities do get an event they make their own, and with a headline name who will appear pro bono it seems a little off for anyone else to pinch it.

Not that I don't understand their desperation. Several years ago, I was approached by a charity that had an idea for a panel event centred on someone I'd interviewed. I asked her if she would oblige and she graciously said yes. Again pro bono. Weeks turned into months as I repeatedly went back to the charity asking them when they were going to stage the event. The response was they needed meetings to agree to it.

Embarrassed that I had left my contact hanging on for so long, and seeing an opportunity to raise much needed funds, I bounced the idea elsewhere.

Another charity took it and raised thousands. It was the incompetence of a meeting–obsessed culture which robbed the first charity of the opportunity.

Out in the provinces, resources are limited. Aside from money and contacts, the only other way to make events happen is when they are organised by committees made up of ''in'' people who are plugged into extensive contact books and whose members, let's be frank, are embedded in the more solvent areas of our community.

But charities must respect the work of each other's tireless fundraisers and volunteers and try to keep a distance from each other's projects.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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