From ‘Go Sober for October’ to Movember: What Charity Campaigns Really Say About Us

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Autumn. Once it was a season defined by drinking mulled cider, going on cold walks, eating a heinous amount of apple pie, collecting conkers, watching the leaves change, having questionably legal firework displays and behaving atrociously on Halloween. Now, however, all that has changed. Partly due to the unprecedented coverage of obscenely saccharine Instagram pictures of #starbucks #pumpkin #spiced #lattes, but primarily due to the lifestyle changes people are temporarily adopting ‘for charity’.

When October was in full swing, swathes of people gave up smoking, drinking, debauchery, and fun. Now November is here, and this can only mean one thing (other than the fact that streets of Britain are going to see an unprecedented rise in alcoholics and chain smokers making up for Stoptober) Movember. Once again, men-folk the world over will be attempting, with varying degrees of success, to grow moustaches for 30 pain-staking days. 30 days of careful cultivation with dreams of successfully emulating the ‘taches of the likes of Freddie Mercury, Salvador Dali, Groucho Marx, or Nigel Thornberry, and realistically looking like they’re wearing the remnants of a cappuccino.

All joking aside, however, campaigns such as Go Sober for October and Movember are supposed, as previously mentioned, to be for charity. Movember has proved invaluable in getting men to talk about prostate and testicular cancer, and, having raised £24 million last year for UK managed prostate cancer programmes, it was clearly very successful. Likewise, Go Sober for October, which sees people forgo the temptation of alcohol for a month, raised £2 million for Macmillan Cancer Support last year.

With figures such as these, the campaigns’ successes are irrefutable, and should absolutely be commended. However, they also provide considerable food for thought. Why do so many people need an incentive to donate to charity? Why does it take some kind of personal gain, whether it be the promise of social media attention, conversation starters and selfie opportunities during October, or even a detox for your liver, to encourage people to donate money to charity? This is not only relevant to large-scale campaigns, but also to so many personal sponsored events. While the money may go to a fantastic cause, if I were to sponsor you to canoe down the Zambezi, cycle through the Alps, or provide pedicures for orphaned orang-utans, you are undeniably also gaining considerably from the experience.

It is a sorry reflection of the narcissistic nature of the society in which we live that helping others out isn’t more deeply ingrained in our day to day activities. The ice-bucket challenge, for example, is thought to have originally started out as an ultimatum: to either donate money to charity, or to be doused in freezing water. The various incarnations of the campaign, most notably the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, raised millions of pounds for various charities, and massively raised the profile of lesser known diseases and charities dedicated to supporting them.

I am hesitant to criticise people for raising money for charity, but once again, we saw people prioritising their own self-promotion and public profile over that of the original cause. A typical nomination may go, “I would like thank ___ for my nomination, I nominate Prince Philip, David Cameron, and Terry from McDonald’s.” *Cue a loud splash, a louder scream, and practically supersonic laughter.* Then, almost as an afterthought “…Oh yeah, and don’t forget to donate money to this charity”.

If people were truly committed to sincerely donating money to charity, would they not simply do so, perhaps promoting the charity to friends and colleagues without drawing attention to themselves in the process?

It is possible that some feel they need to make a return on their donation to charity, and as they have put themselves financially out-of-pocket, the personal gain through attention, a one-off life experience, or physical self-betterment provides this return? Perhaps it is simply that, despite poster, street, and television campaigns, charities are not consistently enough in the public eye for people to remember to donate, and more practical campaigns are more likely to get people actively involved.

Despite the narcissistic undertones of certain fundraising methods, raising money for, and awareness of, certain issues, has to be a positive result. If it is ultimately going to benefit others, then make the most of the unprecedented number of likes on your Facebook video, enjoy waking up clear-headed for an entire month, and use your questionable attempt at face-topiary as a better conversation starter than Lancaster’s meteorological state.

Oh and, er, don’t forget to donate!

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