Teach kids giving should involve sacrifice, not reward
RENDEZVIEW: Incentivising children to fundraise by offering prizes in the form of money and expensive gadgets destroys the true meaning of giving without expectation of reward, writes Kylie Lang.
Whatever happened to the simple joy of giving?
The humble school fun run is the latest victim of hedonism as prizes are dangled in front of kids as young as five to "incentivise" them to reach fundraising targets.
Raise $300 and you'll win an action camera or remote control helicopter, $500 scores you a Fitbit watch or karaoke machine and, with $700, you'll be zipping around the neighbourhood on a BMX bike or commanding Google to do things for you with a "home hub".
Oh, and just imagine if you tip $1000 and become a fundraising high roller - which, as we all know, means harassing parents, grandparents and anyone who shows a passing interest in your life for big sums of cash.
Your choice of a laptop, electric dirt bike, or hover board will arrive in your hot little hands within seven days.
Apologies to all the cute, energetic munchkins out there - two of whom I sponsored recently and who raised over $800 each - but this is taking what should be a selfless endeavour and turning it into one of self-gratification.
Contrast this to the latest Cadbury advertisement in which a girl goes into a corner shop and asks for a block of chocolate, for her mum.
She hands over everything she has to give - a small coin, a few buttons, a plastic ring and lastly, the hardest of all to part with, a tiny toy unicorn.
Worthless to the shopkeeper but priceless to her.
The man responds with kindness, passing the child the chocolate (effectively for free) and, after noticing her little heartbreak over the unicorn, returning the toy as her "change".
The girl scampers outside and wishes her mother a happy birthday.
The message here? Give without any expectation of personal gain other than the joy of seeing someone else happy.
It's a message we all need to be reminded of, regardless of how old we are, and it makes sense to instil these values at the earliest possible age.
Instead, we have businesses supplying Australian schools with "colourful materials" and "rewarding incentive prizes" guaranteed to "set a new standard of fun and excitement for students" and generating up to a 40 per cent spike in funds raised compared to traditional fun runs.
I get why schools might want to take up the offer - fundraising is a tough gig in today's world where there are myriad charities and crowd-funding initiatives - but we are at risk of losing something priceless.
Wendy Scaife is the director of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and non-profit Studies, at QUT.
She tells me we live in an "era of gamification" where everything is about leaderboards, teams against teams, and individual challenges such as the 10,000 steps a day fitness initiative.
"People are used to getting rewarded, but the argument I would put (against fun run incentives) is that you could get the same results by having a great website with online stickers and other bonuses, rather than by material possessions," Dr Scaife says.
"I am sympathetic to the view that giving should involve a bit of sacrifice - giving means that something is a bit of a stretch beyond what you might have done ordinarily.
"It's about building that spirit of giving, and research shows that early conditioning has a strong link to people's propensity to act or think in a generous way.
"If parents are doing tuckshop, sitting on school committees and contributing to community groups, then kids are far more likely to give back as adults."
We have work to do in this important space.
The reality in Australia today is that fewer people are giving.
It is estimated that 14.9 million adults gave $12.5 billion to charities and not-for-profit organisations in 2015-16, according to the Giving Australia survey.
The average donation was $764.08 and the median donation $200. Compared with a decade ago, a smaller proportion of people are giving.
And this is purely the financial side of things. How we fare when it comes to sacrificing our time to help others is harder to measure.
But one thing I am convinced of is that when giving is done with the clear expectation of a tangible reward, then we are missing the point.
When my friend's kids came home all wide-eyed with excitement that they could win cool stuff for their charitable efforts, she said it wouldn't be right to accept prizes.
She donated them back to the school and used the opportunity to talk to them about the true purpose of giving.
In the great fun run of life, that's winning in my books.