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.