News Analysis: Charitable giving


Students must consider alternative means of organising charitable events in light of the current financial climate, writes Amy Bracken

It goes without saying that students are undoubtedly feeling the pinch of the recession and the financial woes that accompany it. Yet through various charity events and campaigns, be it charity-themed weeks in UCD or enterprises that target students with the supposed aim of raising money for charity, the pressure is being piled on to students to part with even more of those scarce funds.

Last week saw the commencement of the SVP Homeless Week sleepout in UCD, an annual event that aims to raise funds for those who must brave the cold winter nights and sleep on the streets each year.

Photo courtesy of UCD SVP

There have been fundraisers for various causes across the semester, with the aim of getting students to contribute to good causes. It seems like a generous, selfless offer, but are donations really appropriate given the already-difficult financial situation of students?

Students are among those with the most disproportionate financial situations in the country. Firstly, there is the registration fee, which is set to rise to €2,000 for the next academic year, the cost of books, laptops and other college materials, the cost of transport and/or accommodation, along with food, clothes, entertainment and other living expenses. Financial difficulties have been known to hamper students’ college experiences, so is it really necessary to encourage them to contribute to such causes if they obviously need to hang on to every penny possible?

Let me firstly clarify that I am just generalising here. Not all students are faced with mass financial difficulties. There are many who have grants and part-time jobs to support them throughout third-level education. But there are some who can barely afford their bus fare to college each day. Are the charity-themed weeks guilt tripping students into donating?

A more student-friendly means of making a difference comes in the form of the Galway Cycle that is being organised within the Science faculty. By seeking sponsorship, students are not depriving themselves of funding they don’t have. The cycle is due to take place in February and students who wish to participate must raise €450 through bag packing and other means outside of the university. Unlike the charity-themed weeks that occur in the university, this will involve encouraging the general public to contribute and will consequently spare the pockets of students themselves.

Of course, the counter argument to this is the fact that students are not the only people who are suffering as a result of the economic crisis. Yet if you take a student who obtains a local authority grant, for example, who must live off approximately €3,000 for the entire academic year, are we putting too much pressure on them with practically every week encouraging them to raise funds for charity?

A former UCD Engineering student recently set up his enterprise AquAid, which involved raising money for charity by selling bottles of water that are colour coded to correspond to a certain charity or cause. Students are the current target audience and this instance is another example of providing an incentive for students to spend money they don’t have.

Additionally, as it is a business, then naturally the entrepreneur has to be making some profit from it. Not all the profits will go to charity, but the good nature behind the business cannot be ignored. It is difficult for students to balance helping those who need it with the mounting cost of attending college. While no one can deny the stellar work that these charities and companies do, how can students decide what causes are the best to donate to?

It would be highly foolish to suggest that the charity-themed weeks in UCD should be scrapped altogether, but surely it cannot be argued that there appears to be an overload of them. Events such as the sleepout must be commended, as they raise money as well as visibly raising awareness of the charity in question. Similarly, society events, such as the cycle to Galway, involve a fun way for students to raise money themselves and encourage friends and family members to sponsor them, thus spreading the charitable donations and not placing undue pressure on people to give money.

Surely it would be better to condense charity events in UCD to each individual faculty, as is the case with the Galway Cycle. By having a campus-wide themed weeks on a number of occasions throughout the semester, there is undue pressure on students to contribute in a climate whereby the majority of them desperately need whatever little funds they manage to acquire.

Encouraging social events with a charitable twist is the way forward. This worked for UCDSVP, who raised €5,000 during Homeless Week and will work for the faculty days who invariably raise huge sums of money for charity. This is the key to successful charity on campus, that doesn’t feel like undue strain on already overstretched students.