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Should I give to Oxfam?

By Craig Borlase | 21 March 2018 | Comments (11)


7,094. That’s the number of direct debits that Oxfam reported cancelled in the wake of the Haiti scandal. Minnie Driver and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both removed their support from the charity, and for days on end politicians and the media lined up to air their public criticism.


Others thought differently. The Times on February 14th reported a rise in one-off donations to Oxfam’s work, while The Guardian publicly called upon readers to continue to support charities. “I am sad and angry about what happened in Haiti and Chad,” wrote author Mark Haddon, “but I am also sad and angry that people in the UK who had no interest whatsoever in the welfare of those people are now occupying the moral high ground or, worse, using this crisis as a way of furthering their own campaign against overseas aid in general.”


So, which side’s right? Should we continue to give to Oxfam or is this the time to vote with our giving and walk away?


There are plenty of reasons to stop giving to Oxfam, or any charity whose actions fall so far from what is acceptable. Deciding to pull our support does not have to mean that we’re turning our back on generosity or undermining the importance of charity. Far from it. Pulling our support from Oxfam can send clear and powerful messages about the standards to which we believe charities should be held.


Make no mistake about it: what happened at Oxfam is wrong. Doubly wrong, in fact. Senior employees behaved in a way that – at best – can be described as utterly inappropriate. Then there was the cover up.  And in a staggering display of arrogance and obfuscation, Oxfam’s head office did not just pour salt on the wounds, they added fuel to the fire. They behaved in a way that is entirely counter to their mission. They protected those with power and ignored the suffering caused to those without. Instead of being a part of the fight to uphold justice, they swapped sides.


Withdrawing financial support – especially if we clearly explain our reasons – can be a useful tool in reminding all charities of the vital importance of staying true to their purpose. It can send a message about the importance of integrity, and give charities pause to reflect on how they conduct themselves


Perhaps we have already seen some of the positive impact of so many supporters spurning Oxfam. Almost overnight charities are now volunteering information about disciplinary issues with employees and volunteers. Had Oxfam’s bottom line not been threatened as it has, would such a dramatic change have taken place?


But for all the compelling reasons to turn our backs on Oxfam, there are equally important reasons to stay.


Choosing to continue to support Oxfam does not mean we are turning a blind eye to the abuses carried out in the charity’s name. Far from it. The fact that Oxfam has - eventually - started to put things right deserves our support. The noises coming from the leadership are penitent and contrite, and they should be empowered to make the changes they need to the organisation to strengthen and improve it for the future. We continue to give because we believe we learn more from defeat than from victory.


The truth that we supporters have to acknowledge is that no charity is blemish free because charities are made up of people, all of whom sin and fall short of the glory of God. When one part of an organisation makes a gross mistake, we don’t pack up and leave. We fix the mess. We make sure it never happens again. We do what we can to get better. Continuing to support Oxfam is an expression of the same grace which covers us all. We give not because we’re blameless and perfect. We give because we’ve been the recipients of God’s generosity, in spite of our failings.


We live in days where outrage and offence are increasingly familiar stances for us to take. Nuance and grey – staying in the mess long enough to fix it – are very difficult. Ultimately, each individual needs to determine whether they can be more effective in producing change through a boycott or through as a loyal supporter calling for change from within.


Should you give to Oxfam? Yes. And no. The answer is yours and yours alone to discern.


Uncertainty, instability and generosity?

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Peter Ward

March 22, 2018 2:44 PM
Good points here -- especially that one suit doesn't fit all. Ultimately the only thing is to seek the Holy Spirit's specific leading, and we all know that may not be as easy as it sounds. Perhaps the only reason for stopping a contribution is to make sure that proper notice is being taken by those who should. I keep having to remind myself that I should never use my giving as a weapon to obtain my own way.


March 22, 2018 3:23 PM
The only charity shop I can buy tea, coffee and cocoa at is Oxfam, and I intend to continue supporting Oxfam in this way and in similar ways, as I would any charity of whose broad aims I approve.
There are really two questions here and the answer to each may be different:
1 Should I give to Oxfam what I cannot give to a charity I consider better?
2. Should I give to Oxfam what I could equally well give to a different charity with which I am happier?


March 22, 2018 3:29 PM
Of course we shouldn't stop being generous. But surely support for TearFund is likely to be a safer proposition than Oxfam (or any other secular Trust for that matter) - and achieve the same aims.
We in the Association of Christian Resource Organisations Serving Sudan (UK) (Charity No.1069973) are committed to help those suffering in Southern Sudan and the refugee camps in Uganda.


March 22, 2018 7:39 PM
I give to several charities through a monthly subscription, also through my monthly church giving where 10% of our total receipts for the month goes to a certain charity. I buy from Oxfam from the shops and also online. I donate to the shops also. I was angry with all of the commotion regarding Haiti and the carrying on of senior staff who should have known better but these things happen and I don't believe the girls were being exploited since they were paid for sex, not raped. I know this will not be popular but it needed to be said. These men were sacked, I don't think it was anybody's business but Oxfam's, you wouldn't expect another company to say if they'd sacked an official for this reason?

Mike Cross

March 22, 2018 10:36 PM
You've got to have confidence in the charity, and that requires integrity at every level. If the head is sick, the body will be too. I always go for integrity, but have to do a little bit of investigation and ask around.


March 23, 2018 9:19 AM
Thanks. This is a helpful article and there may be more options than the yes/no answer to the way the question is framed. The bigger question is what should we, as individuals and charities, do now that will best serve the poor and oppressed in our world.

Andrew Starr

March 23, 2018 12:35 PM
I am pleased that you have raised all these points. As Justin Welby noted this week, we can be very ashamed of our human failures, and when supposedly morally 'good' systems fail, the shame is more intense. We have no excuse not to give from our wealth to try to relieve injustice. One step better would not to give because there is no need to give. Charity itself is a sign of human failure.


March 23, 2018 1:24 PM
I have stopped giving to Oxfam ages ago and redirected the giving elsewhere. I was so fed up of the contact and literature I received and asked them to stop sending it, I felt a large proportion of my token giving was being used on the STUFF I continued to receive


March 23, 2018 3:11 PM
I was as horrified as others at these revelations of unacceptable behaviour - but not surprised, I stopped giving to Oxfam and other large charities some years ago, because of the seemingly ever larger proportions of their outgoings on "administration", and hence the ever smaller fraction of my giving which was actually benefitting the "coal face" charitable activities. But not only for that reason. One was beginning to see more and more press reports describing the actions of charity workers "in the field", where the initial priorities seemed to be acquiring plush accommodation and transport, and their own R&R facilities, rather than focusing on those in need of their assistance.


April 24, 2018 10:58 AM
No, I would never give to Oxfam again, or Save the Children or UNICEF or anything to do with the United nations. It came up as an aside on Newsnight during coverage of this issue that these are 'progressive' organisations; ie vehicles for liberal (anti biblical/Conservative) morality.

In a recent article, on this subject, Melanie Phillips commented


April 24, 2018 6:05 PM
Hi, I posted a comment earlier, which has been partly put on the website, but stops mid sentence? There didn't seem to be a limited number of characters and other posts longer. I thought the following link would have been useful for others to follow up.

PS This is a comment to the website presenters and not a post/comment

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