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Money for values


As social beings we organise ourselves into groups to meet basic human needs. As rational beings we align ourselves with groups who think and behave as we do: with people who have the same values.

We feel proud to announce that we are members of organisations which support specific causes: it says something about the kinds of people we are. I proudly display my National Trust membership car sticker in my bathroom (I don’t own a car), and sometimes use the letters FRSA (Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) after my name to show that I am part of an organisation that does a lot of good work in areas such as education and the environment. The use of social media to offer opportunities to learn about, be part of, discuss and display one’s values is an increasingly popular and important communications vehicle for people.

Charities rely on the aforementioned aspects of human nature. They appeal to us as social, emotional and moral beings. Still, most charities take a two-pronged approach to public engagement: demonstrating the impact of supporting a good cause, and also offering benefits of association – usually membership – convincing us that we will also get value for money. A more radical approach is to tell people that giving their support is the right thing, i.e. the moral thing to do.

Last week I went to hear the philosopher Peter Singer (recently voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world) talk at a World Wildlife Fund sponsored event where he presented a simple solution to eradicate world poverty: if everyone donates 1% of their salary each year we will achieve this – and much more. He has recently launched a web site ( where donors can pledge a proportion of their income – publicly or privately – and find out what kinds of organisations they might give to. Singer references the site on Twitter where he has 800 followers and reports that pledges have doubled in the past three weeks with donations already exceeding $1m.

Singer isn’t saying that it is simply a good thing to support this cause, or that there are any benefits to making the financial commitment. He is saying that it is what we should do as moral beings. He is suggesting “a new public standard for a minimum that we should expect people to give. By pledging to donate the percentage of your income that meets the standard, you will be making a difference to the poor. But that’s not all: you will also be helping to change the public standard of what is involved in living an ethical life in a world that contains both great affluence and extreme poverty.”

Best known for his philosophical arguments for the equal consideration of non-human animals, Singer believes that it is a change in values that will tackle the major challenges to the world today: world poverty and climate change. The principle of equal consideration, he says, underpins the solutions to both of these issues. We have a responsibility – a moral duty – to act to help those who are dying in distant parts of the world as we do to help those in our own communities. And this duty extends to saving the planet for future generations, especially when doing so – in both cases – costs us so very little. He asks us to give our money to benefit others because of the values we should hold. We give our money because it is the only thing to do.

The web site is simple and the arguments convincing. With the help of Twitter, together they are a powerful tool for change. I am persuaded by Peter Singer, and so are the 2,619 others who have pledged so far to give money for values.  In time, people will look at the site not to see who is on there, but to see who isn’t.

Lynn Blackadder advises charities on organisational development.

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