Sunday, June 08, 2008

The charity business

I meant to do something on Geoff Meeker's blog post regarding the Janeway Telethon from earlier the week. As Geoff points out the annual telethon hit a new record this year, getting $2.3 million in donations.

Geoff takes the controversial view of why should the Janeway get all that money. Shouldn't the Seniors Resource Centre or other organizations that help the elderly get as much money as a children's hospital?

My take on this has always been, I don't understand the purpose of the Telethon. Last time I checked, it was the federal and provincial government's responsibility to provide funding for hospitals. A portion of their funding comes from taxpayers. So why should we give extra money to the Janeway each year? I'm tempted to say why should people be guilted into giving money, because let's face it, the Janeway tugs on the heart strings pretty hard.

This theory only increased when I interviewed people in the charity business (and yes, it is a business) in Newfoundland. Understand, there is only so much money that's going to be donated each year in the province and charities fight hard to get as much of that small pile of money as possible. I remember doing a story with the Express looking at how many cancer groups there were in the province and how they all seemed to have events at the same time. Point in fact, most charity events that involve being outside have a limited window of operation in Newfoundland. You have to do it when the weather is nice and people are not away on vacation. That gives you, what, six weeks? Tops.

Anyway, what all the charities know, but will never admit in public, is that the Janeway Telethon is the 800 pound gorilla that sits, well, wherever it damn well wants. I don't know how much money is given the charities each year in Newfoundland and Labrador, but I'm willing to bet the Janeway takes a pretty decent percentage of it. Meaning the other charities fight it out for the rest of the money.

And that was my twofold problem with the Janeway - not only should the provincial and federal government provide all the funding they should need, but in the process the Janeway was indirectly taking money away from other charities in the province.

That might be the right view. It might not. But that's the way I tended to look at things for years.

Now, this view isn't the most popular with Cathy. Frankly for all my griping at the Janeway Telethon, there's no doubt that Cathy would not be alive today if not for the work the doctors and nurses did there. So me saying anything bad about the hospital gets me considerably dirty looks. And while she understands some of my concerns, she also thinks that a lot of that money goes towards things that perhaps governments wouldn't take care of. Like teddy bears for sick kids. Fish tanks that help calm stressed kids. Playrooms, toys and so on and so forth. All of which is important. I don't think the Janeway needs $2.3 million for toys each year, but I understand where she's coming from.

So if there's a middle ground in all of this, I don't know what it is. Yes, there's stuff the Janeway needs that the provincial government doesn't supply. But if it's any medical equipment, construction or staff, then that should be the government's responsibility to deal with, not the publics. Especially when the money from the general public could go to other charities.

This is all a moot point. I know the Janeway Telethon isn't going anywhere any time soon. And there is good that happens with the donated money. I just wish it wasn't setting records every year when there are so many other charities crying out for help and only so much money to go around.

Last Five
1. Van Diemen's land (live) - U2
2. Jamaica say you will - Jackson Browne
3. Too much of a good thing - Lloyd Cole
4. Those sweet words - Norah Jones
5. Listen to the radio - Sloan*


Geoff Meeker said...

I agree with you Craig and I know that I am really tilting at windmills here; the Janeway folks are not likely to change anything voluntarily. They've worked hard to build this telethon, so why should they give it up now?

Actually, as we've both noted, there are some very good reasons. But the Janeway isn't going to change voluntarily. It would take some major pressure from outside interests, and the TV networks would be the most obvious source of this.

The Janeway would look very good right now if they offered, voluntarily, to allow a deserving charity access to the event's earnings every second year... and interested organizations line up here please. It would be a very different show if the subject were to change, but it could be done.

Anonymous said...

We could even take this a step further folks and look at the governments role in all of this. I was talking to a colleague of mine the other day and we were discussing the aspect of funding as related to the area of the arts and corporate sponsorship. As a small charity ourselves one of the most stressful situations we experience is how to keep our organizations going outside of the element of earned income. Our biggest avenue of approach is through sponsorship from either corporate or government agencies. And it is the relationship bewtween these two elements that our connundrum lies. When we approach government our success is questionable and limited because fo bureaucratic policies and when approaching the corporations they have already given to many large projects which include many government projects - i.e. the Petro-Canada Music Hall or The INCO Student Centre at Memorial Universit. Are these not government buildings that should be funded by the government? When corporations expend such large amounts on these projects it suddenly cuts of the smaller oprganizations trying to get on their feet in the rest of the sector.
Yes I am aware that they are doing this to put a higher profile name for themselves in the community. But for the government to solicit them as well for funding for these projects and depriving the smaller organizations of a piece of the pie (and then at the same time be selective over what cultural entities they decide to fund themselves)- well something just doesn't sit right with me on this one. It seems as if the government id now holding the strings of the cultural marionnette and stunting the growth of our cultural community.
Let's hope that with all this talk ab out being a have province in the future these things and approaches will change - butI am not holding my breath on that one either.