The Ethics of Karni – Charity at a Price?

The time of the free loving, politically active student has faded and been replaced with the selfless, charitable fundraiser. However, many believe that it is all just a front for students to party and feel good about it. Nottingham University’s Karnival is the UK’s largest student run charity service. Each year a great amount is raised by the students of Nottingham University for charities across the UK, and last year the total smashed the one million mark. From the end of Week One freshers find themselves bombarded by Karni, primarily due to the Karni reps, oblivious to who are what the organisation even is. From Rag Raids to Seven Legged and the Snowflake ball, the biggest and messiest nights of many a fresher’s first term are through Karnival. After this the effort is taken over by the challenge events, through which hundreds of Nottingham students are sent all over the world to hike, climb, cycle, hitch and skydive all in the name of charity. However, has Karni gone entirely off track when it comes to charity fundraising? Is it just a moral check on uncontrolled chaos?

I threw myself headfirst onto the Karni train in my first year and endeavoured to take part in every rag raid, go on every night out and also gathered over £2300 for Childreach International to climb Kilimanjaro. To any oblivious stranger I (alongside many others) am a selfless, generous paragon. But dig deeper and for many this illusion is shattered. I spent every Saturday of my first term taking part in “charity events”, but I didn’t feel like they were experiences I could put on my CV. Even my tutor gave me a disapproving look when hearing of my involvement, claiming that it was just a way for students to drink more and convince themselves that they are helping others. It’s easy to see where he was coming from; rag raids were simply unmitigated, messy chaos and having to have a “dry area” for a bus journey back pretty much explains what goes on. Tell any member of the public that Seven-legged night is a huge charity fundraiser and they would struggle to see how six thousand students tied together in fancy dress teams of seven parading all over Nottingham city centre benefits anyone other than the bars and clubs and themselves.

The larger ethical dilemma is over the challenge events. These are in fact organised by the charities themselves but offered to students through Karni. Students raise from a few hundred to over two thousand pounds for a charity by whatever means and only if they are successful are they are permitted to take part. Again the simple principles of it are entirely commendable; I managed to raise two thousand pounds for Childreach International in just a month, going from a half marathon to simply collecting outside pubs on the streets of London on a Friday night. Family members were proud of my commitment to raising the funds, dedicating every waking moment of my holidays to the charity effort.

However, the legal tagline to all of this is “I am required to inform you that not all of the money I raise will be going to Charity. Some of my fundraising will be going to the expenses of my trip.” Herein lies the difficulty some have with the idea, why should anyone pay for someone to have the experiences of a lifetime? Thousands of pounds each year go to travel expenses for students to cycle across south East Asia or climb Mt Kilimanjaro and this money comes from potentially unsuspecting donors. At a recent open evening at Childreach I posed this question to Sushant Gupta, head of the challenge event team. His reply was simple: Our group alone raised over £61,000, an amount that can provide clean water for a community for a lifetime. Without our effort this funding simply wouldn’t exist. This is the harsh truth of the world we live in; altruism in its purest form does not exist. People simply will not give off their own backs, especially if they are the only ones to do so. This is by no means a slant at society; we are perfectly entitled to hold onto what we earn. As a result however, organisations such as Childreach and Karnival must find ways to incentivise charity so that we either give without knowing we are, or give us a reason to do so.

It may be a moral conundrum to some but at the end of the day, Karni raised £1,255,454 for charity, does it really matter how? It succeeded in involving thousands of students in charity as well as getting many of us to really care about the causes. A quote given to me by the founder of Childreach International rings true in this instance, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I’ll understand “.

Adam Lees

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5 Comments on this post.
  • Oliver Hamilton
    29 October 2010 at 16:46
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    Fundamentally Adam, I think you’re right. Karni is at times pretty disgusting, can go a bit far and obviously isn’t pure ‘altruism’. However, for all its faults, it is one of the cleverest packaging you will ever see. Students, and people in general, do not care more about other people than they do themselves and Karni takes what students would do (and do do in universities throughout the country) anyway and takes the profits out of the hands of clubs, bars and promoters and puts it into the hands of Cancer Research UK, Childreach, Terrence Higgins Trust etc etc instead. Karni does not offer opportunities that wouldn’t be immediately offered by less reputable folk around the Nottingham nightlife scene.
    You are never going to stop students drinking and going out, but Karnival provides 6 sober reps who can theoretically keep an eye out for students in trouble and are trained to help them in any way they can.
    Finally, there is a large side of Karni that does go unnoticed, possibly because it doesn’t capture the imagination of the majority of Nottingham students. Karni supports hundreds of local causes such as the Scouts, local nursing homes and a disabled school through ‘Kontact’ whilst also providing actual man-power to help set up stalls at charity auctions and volunteers for charity runs, school trips etc.
    I would say Karnival exists because there is a market for it, and in itself is no bad thing, especially considering the vast sums of money they raise.

  • anon
    22 December 2010 at 18:06
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    All valid points and I certainly have my own reservations about some events, particularly the Mr and Miss events which I often find to be improperly regulated and degrading to participants.

    That said I do find it funny (and disappointing to be honest) how quick Impact is to publish about Karni’s ethical short comings yet allows the fact that this year they raised £1.4million for charity to go completely unreported.

  • That’s quite embarrassing
    22 December 2010 at 22:24
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    I do find it funny (and disappointing to be honest) how quick you are to comment on this article about its supposed shortcomings without actually reading it properly.

    As for the exact amount, there are many different factors to consider defining how much Karni raises, ie depending on whether you look at turnover or profit. Karni usually states turnover.

  • David Rees
    4 January 2011 at 18:33
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    @Thats quite embarassing

    ‘Karni usually states turnover”

    Nope, im afraid that is quite embarrassing. The karni total is money given to charities. Not turnover, you could add about £150,000 onto it for turnover.

    Karni never states turnover.

    I hope I’ve helped clear that up

  • Adam
    10 February 2011 at 00:43
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    this is very late, and well beyond the timing of the conversation but i wasn’t condemning it at all. I think Karni is a brilliant thing (although at times as part of Childreach they can be very annoying considering that Childreach event provides a considerable share of the total). What I was trying to say is that it understandable that people disagree with how Karni goes about its business, just as people disagree with charity in general. They all have a point, but I was celebrating its innovation in utilising students and their activities. I was trying to show how its a disagreeable means to a hugely positive end. Its not perfect, but nothing is and no one can argue with the amount raised, I just wanted people to be aware that it can have an ugly side which needs to be appreciated.

    plus even if i did want to put down Karni (which i definitely do not) Impact wouldnt let me haha

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