A few months ago, Charities Committee was “slammed” for an apparently “arrogant” decision to introduce a cap that prevented charities from receiving support from the campaign for consecutive years. Considering the year-on-year success of the Charities Campaign, and therefore the high desirability of being supported by it, this seems like a reasonable decision to prevent one group monopolizing money unfairly. It’s excellent that the Committee self-regulate the fairness of the system and have introduced a policy to encourage a more equal distribution of wealth for charities.
It is interesting that when this policy was introduced, it was Friends of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international charity nominated, that cited this “arrogance” and “lack of transparency”.
Undeniably every little bit helps when it comes to charitable donations, but it is also true that MSF will continue to prosper without an annual St Andrean donation. The same cannot always be said of the local charities we support, which, whilst making up only a third of our donation, rely on our aid far more as a proportion of their yearly income and therefore would particularly benefit from continued support and awareness.
Our donations make more of a difference locally than in a national or international context. It would probably be different if we were discussing smaller widely-reaching charities, but this year the student body has decided to support the Macmillan Cancer Trust and MSF, probably because we’ve all heard of them, and both are charities with far reaching influence and stature. Neither of these charities have any issues with exposure or even a unique link to St Andrews.
We’re doing something good by supporting them, but when we elect charities to support by only choosing ones we’ve already heard of, we are limiting the impact that our support will have.
By choosing a more local charity, not only does our nomination of them increase their reputation and overall influence, but it also educates us and all those connected with the University about a worthy cause we hadn’t previously considered.
A charity such as Families First St Andrews would be perfect, a true symbol of the local cause that we could really help to support and donate our time and effort to. Once their year of sponsorship has passed, those who have looked into the charity because of the link with St Andrews will, no doubt, continue to support it long term.
St Andrews isn’t really a bubble in the way we’d like to pretend; many of us come from big cities or interesting places overseas. Therefore, we’re in constant contact with not only other universities and networking opportunities but also a more global way of thinking. The town and gown relationship is not at it’s best; most students are unaware that there is anything between here and Edinburgh and many would be surprised to find a food bank actually within St Andrews itself. And yet, we are well-informed and up-to-date on challenges the world faces like the Syrian refugees or Ebola. It’s excellent that we care that much about the entire world, but it is equally important not to snub the place that we live in favour of more exotic and perhaps less mundane problems.
We’re actually a bubble in terms of our immediate community. Supporting a local charity allows us to give back to a community that we mostly ignore. This is a university with a large majority of both middle class and wealthy students. It’s clear that we could really make a difference in our local area if we wanted to. It’s useful for these charities to experience this exposure because they need our physical help, in terms of time and care, far more than massive organisations like Macmillan and MSF do. The issues faced by a group like Fife Women’s Aid are literally close to home, there is simply more we can do and it can be so easy.
So, why aren’t we already doing it? It’s great that we are continually evaluating and discussing our approach to charity and considering why we donate, and what outcome we want from our donations is an important part of that. I would argue that we should support the causes where we can do the most good, those being the causes that all the other universities, guilds and businesses forget. These charities need this exposure far more than massive organisations like Macmillan and MSF. We should work with the charities to improve our connection with the community and understand our home as more than just an ancient university and a golf course. If we can burst the bubble in a way that isn’t only going to Glasgow or Dundee to get drunk but includes a genuine interest in the tiny, fascinating part of the world where we spend four years then this can help us connect with St Andrews on an entirely different level, pretty good outcome, both for the charities themselves and our personal development and awareness.