OPINION: Thinkpiece - Giving brings out our finest moral qualities

Winston Fletcher, a trustee of Barnardo's and several other charities

"A charity is there for beneficiaries, not for donors", claimed a recent editorial in this magazine (Third Sector, 18 June). Well, yes and no.

It is the donors who make charities work. No donors, no beneficiaries.

And it goes deeper than that. Charitable donations are fundamental acts of human kindness - they enhance our society.

You need not be a religious believer to accept that the Bible was right about this. One of the most famous biblical quotations says: "And now abideth faith, hope and charity...but the greatest of these is charity" (1Corinthians 13). It did not question what the charity was for. It did not even mention beneficiaries.

It simply calls upon us to be charitable, because charity is a profoundly laudable human trait.

Doubtless many people give to assuage their guilt, or as a personal thanksgiving for their own good fortune - or because their arms are gently twisted at charitable events. Their motives hardly matter. The fact is that they give. And almost always their gifts are private, known to nobody except themselves, and maybe their families. When people give charitably, they are quietly expressing one of humanity's finest moral qualities: sympathy, compassion, altruism, call it what you will.

Moreover they rarely expect - and even more rarely get - any thanks.

Occasionally they will receive a letter or a few appreciative words. But usually they give their money - and that's it. The beneficiaries almost never thank the donors; they hardly ever know who they are.

Nor, with regard to most major charities, do the donors know who the beneficiaries will be. If you give to a small local charity, you may know exactly where your money is going. But if you donate to a major national charity, the truth is that you have no precise idea of where your money will go. Money given to Oxfam can end up helping the needy anywhere in the world; money given to Barnardo's will end up helping children anywhere in the UK.

Around 70 per cent of the British public give to charities. They get nothing in return, except a warm feeling. Charity brings out the very best in people - and that is something of which everyone in the third sector can be justifiably proud.

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