I’m thinking of registering my voice as a trademark. Why? Because I am sure it is being played over and over in various training sessions for the numerous telemarketers and call centres who have recently had the (dis)pleasure of contacting me. Before I go on, a slight detour.

All this talk lately about Ebola and Syria, Iraq and the radicalised rangger (17 year old misguided youth from Sydney) has, as always, got me in reflective mode. Islam has five pillars. It’s strange really that while so few of us know much about Islam we can name probably at least three pillars without thinking (Visit Meccah, Pray Five times a Day and Observe Ramadan). What is probably less well known is the obligation for zakat (to give to charity). Muslim friends of mine give about 10% of their annual income to charities. For most Muslims it is 2.5% of annual income. This compares to an optimistic calculation that 67% of all households in Australia give to charity annually. Kind of puts some other things into perspective when the figures are laid out like this.

Anyway back on point.

I also give to charity. I think it’s the right thing to do. Aside from the opportunistic charity collector at the door (with the exception of the Salvation Army on the grounds that they confuse me) I also like to choose one or two specific charities where I can spend some time looking into their cause and get to understand their ethos and objectives. Giving to charity can be fun too; it’s OK to feel good about doing it. I’m not saying I use the same degree of diligence in selecting my charities as I do selecting my shares but I do lift the cover and look underneath. Just lately my charity selections have performed just about as poorly as my shares!

A little while back, before the Ebola outbreak and as the humanitarian crisis in Syria was unfolding, I selected Medicines Sans Frontiere (MSF) as my charity of choice. In  making the donation online, my preferred payment choice, I of course had to supply certain private contact information. Before I had much time to bask in my own glory about the lives I had affected (as advised to me by email and in the follow-up magazine I receive d a few days later) I received a telephone call one evening about 7 o’clock. It was a bloke from MSF touching me up for more money. This is where my support for a charity starts to wear thin and wear thin fast. The guy was saying they (MSF) needed more money and did I understand why. Well at this stage I was losing my renowned cool and began to probe the telemarketer. As suspected, he didn’t work for MSF but a company employed by MSF to wrangle more money out of me. I established quite quickly that his company wasn’t doing this for free but were paid by MSF. I then suggested that the money MSF were paying for the service, that so rudely interrupted my viewing of ‘A Current Affair’, might be a useful contribution towards the actual crisis they were trying to raise money for.

There was no doubting the tenacity of the telemarketer. He then began enlightening me as to the trouble spots in the world and why more money was needed. Sure I was watching Channel 9 at the time, but I do watch SBS as well. I don’t need some wet behind the ears young person telling me about the current geo-political tumult in the world. I blog about this stuff. A bit of hurt pride might have crept in there and this reflected in my tone. My point is, and I shared this with Mr Telesales, that I am aware of what is happening and when the time is right I would make a further donation. Fact is I was thinking of making a further contribution in the week before the call. Had I not got the call I probably would have. As a result of the call I withdrew my support for MSF for the foreseeable future. The idea that you can get your claws into me and bring some sort of moral pressure to bear to extract more money doesn’t work with me. I’m a bit too strong-minded for that.

The next day, still fuming, I signed up with UNHCR. That would make a nice closing sentence to this blog, but I think you are already sensing what’s coming next. About a month later, replete with magazine and appreciative emails I received a call on my mobile at work. No prize for guessing. Same pitch – different guy. This time I didn’t share my views so expansively, but just said I would be moving on from UNHCR repeating that I would decide when and where to give thankyou very much.

While discussing future charitable options the other night with my wife, I saw a very professional and quite arresting advertisement for a children’s helpline charity. I can clearly remember the strapline ‘For every 10 kids that call 6 calls get through 4 don’t.’ My wife just looked at me and asked ‘how many more calls could they answer if they didn’t have to pay for the ad and expensive advertising timeslots?’  Good point. While I am not against charities trying to get themselves recognised within the 600,000 charities that are registered in Australia, I cannot help thinking that the slickness of campaigns and strategies that even Myer or BHP would be proud of, is getting us away from what makes charities appealing in the first place.

Last year I had the real privilege of attending the Harvard Business School Social Leadership Program led by the inimitable Harvard Professor, F Warren McFarlan (thanks to JBWere for sponsoring me). What was immediately noticeable was the quality of the CEOs and senior executives present who were running charities. There is top drawer talent out there putting their skills to the task of optimising charitable income. I admire each and every one of them. Only problem I see is that the strict application of MBA principles, especially those of marketing, fit somewhat uncomfortably with the pace, tone and culture of charities in my view. To me charities have a warm and fuzzy feel, designed especially to counteract that well known phrase. I want more humanity in who I donate to and less slickness. Now if I could only get royalties for my training tapes,  that could increase the charity coffers quite substantially.