Giving to charity feels good, right? When you make a donation, you feel like you have helped towards the end cause, whether it’s pennies towards hay for an old donkey or giving cash to a much-needed helpline. Knowing that you’ve helped someone by supporting a cause is what giving to charity is all about.
However, when large charities, such as Comic Relief and Save The Children, who hold a standing in society and are given unprecedented support and airtime from one of the world’s biggest broadcasting houses, (an honour that very few other charities achieve) it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth of small charities who struggle to raise £10, let alone £10 million. The uproar over the way in which donations have been invested is warranted and I genuinely hope it hasn’t affected how people regard the entire charity sector. What is most alarming, for the health charity sector at least, is the way money has been used to qualify a silence and prevent criticism from charities, due to funds received from a corporate donor. We cannot afford to let this happen.
The charity sector is unique; our voice counts for a lot, and it is one of the most trusted industries globally. Speaking from a health charity perspective, it is vital that we protect and maintain our reputation by continuing to put forward views that are backed by evidence and represent what is best for patients and their families.
I do, however, understand and am well aware of the demands to keep the funding streams flowing and have had first hand experience of accepting funds from an alcohol company during my time working for another national UK liver charity. I always found it very uncomfortable to entertain the idea of accepting money from the alcohol industry, and still do, particularly when they drive consumption, whether ‘responsible’ or not. It was evident from the offset that there were differing priorities when initial conversations took place. While I wanted to run a picture campaign highlighting the sheer damage that alcohol can do to the liver and people’s lives, they wanted to fund a bland; non-output based piece of work with little value to the charity. And they were aggressive in their approach too; not willing to entertain a conversation of what would really would make a difference. Instead they chose to offer a lip-service sum, rather than anything of any substance, quoting their support of Drinkaware, which in case you weren’t aware is the ‘charity’ owned by the alcohol industry with about as much credibility as Golum from Lord of the Rings.
It always was, and still is, very difficult to garner money for any kind of liver-related alcohol awareness programme. Besides, coming up against the 10ft high alcohol adverts on the high street and in supermarkets is a tall order - literally! This is compounded by the stigma attached and the reluctance from the public to donate to something that is regarded as a bad lifestyle choice (an often judgmental and unwarranted view). Corporate support, other than from the alcohol industry, is minimal as companies do not often view alcohol health harms as a priority for them. It seems they conveniently forget that the majority of their workforce drink alcohol, which, in some cases, can lead to absence at work, family breakdown and health problems.
Whether you deem it right or wrong, accepting money from alcohol companies in the charity sector does happen. However, some of the funding can work and may have a mutual benefit to both parties. For instance, I would be interested to know people’s views on an alcohol-free brand, which is owned by an alcohol company, funding an awareness campaign. Surely if the campaign was underpinned by a desire to encourage alcohol-free alternatives – an area which rarely gets any airtime or awareness – then it should be accepted as a credible partnership?
So, in conclusion, as a charity starting out, with very few £s in the in the bank, it would be easy to say ‘yes’ to every funder who offers us money, no matter who they are. Yet, as BBC’s Panoramahighlighted this week, it is critical that our funding sources are transparent, credible, and do not silence us as critics.
And so, Liver4Life would like to keep its transparency, build it’s young reputation and continue to represent all people who are affected by a liver condition, whatever the reason might be. We will always be transparent and we will never counter our language or response to an issue that affects liver conditions.
Have a great weekend.
PS: I do feel like I should quantify this blog post to people with non-alcohol related liver conditions, as it is largely centered on alcohol. I know some people believe that we should not focus our efforts on alcohol-related liver conditions, however it should be noted that over 50% of all liver conditions relate to alcohol. That would be a huge cohort of people not to support.