Thursday, 22 October 2015

Who First Said “Charity Begins At Home”?

Well, to be accurate, it was Sir Thomas Browne, polymath, physician, scientist, antiquarian and prose writer. He wrote, in Religio Medici [1642] that “Charity begins at home, is the voice of the world: yet is every man his greatest enemy”


Here is his statue, on Hay Hill, Norwich. He lived in a house nearby [sadly now demolished] for 50 years until his death. He was an exceedingly clever guy, and among other passions, he really loved words.The Oxford English Dictionary cites Browne as the first user of the word “electricity” – which he defined as “a tenuous emanation or continued effluvium, which after some distance retracteth into itself” [no, I don’t understand that either!] . He also gave us incontrovertible, hallucination and cryptography.

But it was thinking about charity which reminded me of him this week. Is it just me [and Sue in Suffolk] or do other people get frustrated by some charity appeals?


This week the Red Cross have sent me a biro, 2 coasters and 2 notecards – along with a letter asking for a donation – and offering me either 2 notebooks or a cotton shopping bag if I send them £5.

I do not need any more notebooks or cotton shopping bags. Nor more coasters, biros or notecards to be honest.

I do believe in giving to charity – but it is something I prefer to do thoughtfully, carefully and prayerfully. There are some things I support on a regular basis, others where I might make a one-off donations, sponsorship of friends who are fund-raising – and prompt response to disasters when the DOC makes appeals. As a member of the WWDP National Committee, I have the awesome responsibility of helping to decide where a quarter of a million pounds is distributed each year. Yes I certainly do believe in charity.

But I didn’t ask for this stuff, and I don’t know what to do with it.


I have absolutely no qualms about re-using the many ‘charity collection bags’, which arrive regularly through the letterbox, for other purposes. Research by the British Heart Foundation a few years ago showed that only one third of goods donated in these bags eventually ends up in High Street Charity Shops – the rest is sold abroad for private profit. I usually turn such bags inside out, and fill them up with my non-recyclable rubbish before it goes in the bin.

But I am really uncomfortable with the Red Cross letter. Presumably everybody in my street [town, county, country?] received one. How much did such a mailshot cost?  There are 40 houses in my street. Even allowing for ‘economies of scale’, if it costs 10p for each person’s letter&contents, and only one person in my street responds, if sending them a shopping bag costs 50p, then the Red Cross are spending £4.50 to raise £5. This doesn’t seem a very efficient use of time and resources.

And if I choose not to send them a fiver, what do I do with this lot  of freebies? is it immoral to stand my coffee mug on the coaster if I have not given the Red Cross any money? or to write my auntie a note on the card, using the biro? will I be helping to raise awareness of the Red Cross, or misleading my aunt into believing I am more generous than I am?

Please don’t tell me to donate the coasters to one of the CS in the town – last week I saw a whole stack of the previous year’s Red Cross coasters [still unsold] on a shelf in a CS.

The statue of Sir Thomas was erected in 1905 [and in L P Hartley’s ‘The Go Between’ it is the place where Leo and Marian meet after their shopping trip] In 2007 another sculpture was placed nearby- ‘In Homage to Thomas Browne’ – it is a huge representation of  his brain! I love to look at them both when I’m in Norwich.

brownes brain

I think even a man with such a great brain, and such a generous heart, might struggle with this charity conundrum!

What have you done with your pens, cards, and coasters?


  1. I do so agree about the Charity stuff that comes through the door with the post, it must cost them a fortune to send the stuff out as well.

    I use the coasters, once they get a bot tatty they go into the bin. Like you I prefer to give to a charity of my choice, which in this case would not be the Red Cross. The endless plastic bags are used in my waste bin in the kitchen. If I have stuff to donate clothing wise it goes to the Rainbows shop in the town or to the tip where they send the stuff for rags. Any larger items I cannot get rid of go to the shop in the town which provides furniture etc for the homeless who are getting their first home or to people who cannot afford to buy new stuff. This past year they have had an almost brand new single bed, the old bed settee which was also in very good condition and yesterday they collected a rug 6 x 4 rug which we no longer use.

  2. Like you, Ang, I have almost guilt complexes about using any of the things sent by charities. I do keep the pens! But I rarely respond unless it is one of my chosen charities, and even then I feel annoyed at the constancy of their 'begging'. As we get nearer to Christmas I'm afraid it will only get worse.

  3. We have quite a collection of these charity coasters at church and now I am sure there will be additions to the collection since this last mailshot. The pen goes in the pot by the phone, but I think it will run out soon as it seems a bit feeble. The cards may get used...I've made my choices for charity support on a regular basis and like you, I occasionally send donations in to other things on a one-off basis. I think this kind of mail shot is a huge waste of time, money and resources. Hope your tooth is OK xx

  4. I had the same red cross letter delivered yesterday. I don't even bother reading them, I took the pen and put the rest in the bin. I choose to donate to our local hospice mostly with a bi annual donation to help the heroes and RNLI.
    I'm very sure these other charities do sterling work but I don't think the people running them should be on fat cat salaries.

    I've also had many phone calls from charities who are asking for direct debit donations, even stating that I have helped in the past. They are becoming quite cheeky in their efforts to raise money. Like you, I wonder how much all these unsolicited freebies are costing.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I do tend to use the cards and bookmarks because they have sent them but I won't let it make me sign up for a donation because I contribute to quite a few charities regularly already. I think it is a waste too. I've been cross with a few charities actually. Barnados really annoyed me because a Christmas a few years ago, I decided they would be the recipients of my Christmas charity contribution when I saw a general letter through the door or something. I sent quite a large cheque to them. I specifically said on my letter that I was ONLY INCLUDING my address so they could claim the giftaid on it but could they please NOT contact me as that was the only reason I had included it. Of course, I was then bombarded on a monthly basis asking me to become a regular DD contributer. I felt like they wasted a lot of money on posting me letters.
    Similarly, I am actually a monthly contributor to Premiere and they really have annoyed me with the constant, one letter a week at one time asking for more money. I made one extra contribution in addition to my usual and have then ignored them but it annoys me that they waste so much money on targeting someone who already contributes!


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