The ethics of buying a goat
For sale: One cute animal that will help you save the world… or will it just make you feel better?
Charity gift packages that offer you the chance to buy a friend a goat, some chickens or even a pile of poo for a poverty-stricken family in the developing world might make us feel warm and fuzzy, but they can also be misleading.
On the plus side, they offer a tangible way of giving someone the gift of charity donation for a present. Buying a “goat” might come with an e-card, a receipt and a funny picture of the creature packed with his suitcase and ready to go. In short, a relatable image of what you may have contributed to.
This kind of marketing brings in valuable dollars for charities from people who may have otherwise spent the money on non-charitable gifts.
But it’s important for consumers to consider where that money is really going. If charitable organisations aren’t clear with their intentions, they could damage the good faith of their donors and ultimately do more harm than good.
Various animal-gifting schemes have also come under fire for being both muddy about their intentions and sloppy in their execution.
For example, a 2006 study of UK animal-giving programs by charities analyst Intelligent Giving found few organisations delivered the animals as they promised they would. Other schemes that did actually make good on their claims were criticised as being more of a hindrance than a help to the impoverished communities they were delivered to.
One critic, quoted by the Times Online as Adam Tyler of Animal Aid, said poorly run schemes were little more than a short-term fix for small groups of individuals. At worst, they can actually burden poorer families who don’t have the means to feed, water and provide ongoing care for the animals.
Others claim it would be more effective to invest in a microloan scheme, which offers greater empowerment and choice to recipients than an animal gift.
In most cases, the “goat” you have just bought isn’t really a goat at all. Rather, the claim goes, you have bought the idea of the goat. If you buy from Oxfam for example, your purchase will “go towards funding programs that your item represents”.
If you infinitely trust the charity you’re donating to, that might be a satisfactory answer. On the other hand, not all charities are as trustworthy or organised as Oxfam. If you can’t be sure of where your money is going, you are helpless to ensure it is going to the right place.
“Buying a goat” simplifies the idea of charity giving and removes the burden of knowledge from the giver. Consumers would be better off gaining a broader understanding of the program they are donating to in order to make informed and rational choices.
This would be an awful lot easier if charities were more transparent in their offerings.
Aussies are an extremely generous bunch when it comes to giving. As a nation, we give millions to various causes each year. But according to a 2008 survey conducted by CHOICE Magazine, over 80 per cent of respondents who regularly donated to charity weren’t sure where their money was going – and 97 per cent believed it was important to know how effective their donation was.
I am not for a second advocating the end of charity donations, but it would be tragic to find out the money you’re investing is not fulfilling its intended purpose. Unlike many other wealthy nations, Australia does not have a key charity watchdog or a central regulating body to ensure the line of donation is consistent and clear.
Until we achieve this, it is up to the consumer to ensure their generosity is heading in the right direction – because in the case of charity gift-giving, it’s not the thought that counts.
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