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Sensible giving

08 July 2016


IF THERE is anybody out there thinking of a sensational way to raise money for charity, you might first like to do a proper cost-benefit analysis. Take all those foolhardy sky-divers who throw themselves out of a plane for the benefit of their dearest cause. A recent study, quoted in Analysis: The charitable impulse (Radio 4, Monday of last week), reveals that, for every £1 raised for charity, £13 is spent by the NHS patching up the good-hearted, broken-limbed individual.

If in doubt, you might want to consult somebody at the Centre for Effective Altruism, one of whose directors has calculated that his own giving, over a lifetime, will save 750 lives. It is that kind of direct relationship between money and results that is the most powerful motivator to giving. Hence we receive through our doors begging letters telling us that just £3 a month will save a life, rather than that £36 a year will contribute to a multi-million-pound programme to help thousands.

There were things to take from this programme that were both encouraging and depressing. For instance, charities are good at exploiting our irrational side, revealed in competitive giving and benchmarking. On the other hand, it appears that our willingness to give to charity is not so constrained that, when a tsunami or earthquake takes centre-stage, other charities lose out. When the two instincts are combined, then it makes for powerful results. Thus a recent pilot project run by Remember a Charity has run a survey which includes the question “Many people choose to give money to a charity in their wills. Would you consider doing so?” The response to this little prod has been encouraging. The answer is clear: competitive sky-diving. The one who ends up with the most plaster casts gets the most money.

We shouldn’t laugh. Although it didn’t stop Tim Vine, one of whose guests on The Tim Vine Chat Show (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) had experienced a sky-diving accident, and walked away unharmed. “That went down well”, came the response.

In this new vehicle, Vine challenges himself to engage in some extemporised banter with the audience. It is an interesting challenge; part of the charm of his act has been that the jokes are so manufactured. And, at one point, he revealed his gag-making process by abandoning the set-up (to a joke involving golden syrup) and fast-forwarding to the punchline: “Viscous rumour: go on, you make it funny!” That this is a humour where the tail wags the dog makes it all the more amusing.

Would that we could have had revealed to us the punchline of our current political comedy. On Sunday (Radio 4), Edward Stourton tried to prise out of the Speaker’s Chaplain, the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, some insight into the political tensions in the House of Commons. But, unlike her flock, she was maintaining diplomatic silence, and expressed only a wish for reconciliation and love in the political elite. A wish, one fears, as evanescent as a political promise.

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