Interesting story in the Guardian last week. “CRUK defends use of amateur boxing events for fundraising.”
Basically, CRUK have been working with a company called Ultra White Collar Boxing (UWCB) who organise amateur boxing matches in order to raise funds for cancer research. This has drawn criticism from boxing’s governing bodies, Boxing Scotland and England Boxing, both of which highlight the potentially serious health risks to the participants. In response, a CRUK spokesman replied, “….UWCB adhere to all necessary health and safety procedures….(and) has raised an incredible £3.7m for the charity. Cancer Research UK receives no government funding, so we rely solely on the money we receive from our supporters.”
Now, this raises an interesting question about how charity fundraising is carried out.
There are a helluva lot of charities out there, all trying to raise money and increase public awareness about their chosen area. When it comes to cancer, the best known of these is obviously CRUK, which has an interest in cancer as a whole, ie. in ALL forms of cancer and in all types of treatment & care provision. But, as well as CRUK, there are many, many other cancer charities out there.
These tend to be smaller organisations, with a more focused remit. Often they will be interested in specific types of cancer, eg. Prostate Cancer UK, Breast Cancer Now, Neuroblastoma UK (who have funded a lot of my work through the years) and many, many others.
Also, there are other organisations out there, who are less interested in particular diseases, but are more interested in the specific patients who are affected (eg. Children With Cancer), or in patient care provision (eg. MacMillan Cancer Support). Others are interested in funding specific types of study (eg. the Hadwen Trust).
But, whatever the specific organisation, you’ll often find that the people involved in setting up & running these charities have a very personal reason for doing so. Either they have suffered from cancer themselves, or else a loved one has (and in the case of the people involved with Neuroblastoma UK – a childhood cancer, remember – I can tell you from personal experience that listening to their stories is utterly heartbreaking.)
And there is no doubt that the work these people do is good. The money they raise – the money they distribute – makes a real difference. The research they fund provides insight into the fundamental causes of cancer. They help to find new targets for drug development and other new treatment methods. They fund the clinical trials to test these new treatments. They fund patient support groups. They fund hospices. These people work tirelessly, with total dedication, to try and improve cancer treatments and patient care, and I have nothing but the UTMOST respect for them.
But the Guardian story raises an interesting question. One which I’m not sure I can answer. How should money be raised? What’s an appropriate way of fundraising? And, crucially, what is not appropriate? Now, it seems obvious that there are certain people that cancer charities shouldn’t be taking money from. Criminal organisations, for instance. Or Tobacco companies….Especially the latter. So, not all donations are acceptable.
But where do you draw the line? And do UWCB’s activities cross that line? Is it right for cancer charities (or any charities) to take the money raised by these boxing events? After all, the health risks of boxing have been debated repeatedly over the years. So, should a health charity take money from an organisation whose activities might have serious health consequences?
It’s a tricky question. But the thing is, if the answer is “No, they shouldn’t take that money”, well that just opens a can of worms, because there are plenty of other activities used for fundraising which could be considered dangerous too. So, is it OK to take money from someone doing a sponsored marathon? Or a hill climb? Because both of these activities can also be incredibly dangerous if the participant is under prepared. What about bungee jumping? Or sky diving? These could also be considered dangerous pursuits, but I’ve never seen any objections to the use of money raised from these activities either.
Now, certainly, it could be argued that boxing is different. It involves acts of intentional harm. Shouldn’t that be taken into account? Well…..maybe so. But then, surely, this brings up the subject of free will. The participants in these events are not being forced into it, nor are they being hoodwinked. On the contrary, the people involved are, in general, well aware of the potential risks and are still choosing to take part. So, should their personal opinions and choices be dismissed? Again, I’m not sure I can say Yay or Nay.
And remember, these activities have raised millions. That should count for something, right? Well, actually, we’re on firmer ground here. The amount means nothing. After all, as I said earlier, the tobacco companies would be more than happy to shovel gazillions into cancer charities (and possibly still do, in countries where they can get away with it). But the good that money could do would be off-set massively by the validation the tobacco companies would gain from the gesture – and would then use to justify their activities.
So, the end does not always justify the means. Those involved in running the charities have to decide, on a case by case basis, whether to accept a donation or not. Most times, they’ll get it right. But sometimes, they’ll get it wrong. Whether this is one of those times….? I don’t know. But I do know that they’ll make the choices that seem correct to them at the time.
And what more could any of us ask?
PS. The eagle-eyed will have noticed that I’ve provided links to the cancer charities mentioned in this post. Just click on the name of the charity, and you’ll be taken to their website. Please: follow a link. Make a donation. However big or small an amount, any money you can give can make a difference. Cheers.
O’Toole, L., Nurse, P., & Radda, G. (2003). An analysis of cancer research funding in the UK Nature Reviews Cancer, 3 (2), 139-143 DOI: 10.1038/nrc994