Charities did not cause the Fort McMurray wildfire. Charities did not cause the suicides in Attawapiskat. Charities did not cause any of the world’s problems. It may seem odd to have to make these statements, but according to the mainstream media lately, I have to.
Now, I acknowledge the role the media plays in keeping our public institutions in check. Without investigative journalism and careful scrutiny, nefarious activity would go unnoticed. The challenge is that information on charitable organizations is easily accessible with just a few clicks. All the information is usually available on the charity’s website. If not, the CRA’s search engine will have it, making charities easy pickings for assigning blame.
Take the Globe & Mail’s headline: “In Attawapiskat, failed mental-health project a tale of waste.” According to the article, Weeneebayko’s federally funded suicide prevention initiative, “fell far short.” Because that $800,000 grant could have been spent better and prevented those 100+ suicide attempts. And yes, all Weeneebayko’s funding information is available on their website.
Or the Global News’ headline: “Alberta agency tasked with preventing wildfires leaves millions unspent.” In sum, the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta received $23.6M, but only spent $6.9M over 2 years. If only they had spent that extra $16.7M, charities could have prevented that wildfire. I wonder if they had spent that money, would the title have been: “Alberta agency tasked with preventing wildfires spent millions, a tale of waste?”
Charities cannot win.
Despite the gutting of the charitable sector over the past decade, the lack of any administration or R&D support, the complete intolerance for any risk taking, the inability to pay competitive wages, or the countless other handicaps placed on the charitable sector– charities still do incredible work, even though media headlines might have you believing otherwise.
Charities are perceived by the public to be failing because mainstream media frames accountability for a problem in their name.
This needs to stop. A history of colonialism had more to do with the Attawapiskat suicides, and the greater frequency and intensity of forest fires have more to do with climate change than anything to do with charities. Yet, these articles focus on the charitable sector not spending enough money or not spending it well. The implication seems to be that these misfortunes are somehow the fault of charities and their shortcomings, and this pits people against charities and removes us from our collective responsibility.
In the era of infobesity, it is easy for people to get distracted by these red herrings. So we need to be reminded. Wildfires and mental health crises are not caused by charities. Nor are charities responsible for preventing such calamities. Charities’ role is to respond to the calamities as best as possible within the confines of their sector.
Hopefully, the media will allow them to do so without the constant threat of a scandalous public persecution.