Oxford’s story of RAG and riches

Cherwell has this week found that Oxford RAG raises 90% less money than some other university RAGs. Cherwell has also uncovered significant differences in the amount of moneyraised for RAG by individual colleges.

RAG, which stands for Raise And Give, is overseen by OUSU. It describes itself as Oxford’s central charities committee, and is part of a national network of university RAG organisations. In 2009-10, Oxford RAG donated just under £70,000 to charity, but both Loughborough and Nottingham raised over £1 million, while Cambridge raised more than double Oxford’s total.

Nottingham University’s equivalent, Karnival, raised almost £1.25 million – £50,000 of which came from a single club night attracting over 6,500 students. Joe Spraggins, Karnival Treasurer, told Cherwell, “I think one of the main reasons we’re so successful is that we appeal to a wide audience, so that at some point throughout people’s time at Nottingham they will get involved in Karnival in one way or another.” Even outside of term time Nottingham students continue fundraising. £500,000 was earned over the summer vacation alone, with trips including climbing Kilimanjaro and trekking the Great Wall of China.

Of Oxford RAG’s £70,000 total for 2009-10, only £38,000 was raised by RAG-organised events. College-organised events, which received assistance from RAG, raised the remaining £32,000, which was donated to charities nominated by JCRs and JCR Charity Reps.

The cost-effectiveness of RAG fundraising events has also been questioned: Kieran Cunningham, candidate for the OUSU position of Charities & Committee Vice President stated on the night of his hustings, “people do not have confidence in Oxford RAG.”
He told the room, “When I was raising money on the street for my friends to bungee jump, people asked me how much of this money is going towards the crane and insurance and how much is actually going towards charity? I felt uncomfortable answering them.”

Cunningham pledged that if elected he would “look at the books and make changes if necessary.”

Students have also expressed concern that RAG fails to make clear what the money donated will be used for. Harry Maltby, a JCR Charities Rep, says “I think RAG is at risk of losing sight of the fact that they are fundraising for very specific charities. In the plethora of emails, nowhere have I seen the charities mentioned – they’d do well to remind us that are not just raising money for the sake of it.” And Will Wright, a second year historian, commented that ‘this magic word ‘charity’ is used to guilt-trip people into buying tickets, and I find this happens a lot, both with events organised within the JCR and by RAG. Most of the time, no one actually knows what they are fundraising for.”

But Oxford RAG Vice President and Treasurer, Charlotte Flowers, defended RAG’s fundraising efforts. She said, “We make sure all our expenditure is the minimum that it can be to maximise our fundraising capability, and we hope that we too can critically look at our accounts and ensure that this continues.” Flowers also pointed out Oxford RAG’s recent growth. Having made a total of £26,000 in 2009 they have made £25,000 this term already.
The current VP Charities and Community, Daniel Lowe, argued that ‘If an event turns a profit, that can only be a good thing. Turning five pounds into six and giving that pound to charity is a success, however small. Charitable events can serve two functions, either purely to raise profit, or to raise awareness of the cause thereby encouraging later participation.”

It should also be remembered that the collegiate system means that much of the money raised by Oxford students is not included in the RAG total, whilst the vast majority of fundraising at universities such as Nottingham and Loughborough is associated with their RAG groups.

And Immanuel Kemp, Cambridge RAG treasurer, is confident that Oxford RAG will grow quickly. He said, “Essentially it’s about something having managed to develop over time which is now self-sustaining. I’m sure that within a few years Oxford RAG should have no difficulty in raising on a par with or exceeding our own total from last year.” Charlotte Flowers is also optimistic that Oxford can make RAG an integral part of student life through “a culmination of more awareness and bigger events both university wide and within colleges.” At this week’s OUSU husts, one audience member praised RAG’s efforts, asking, “When OxHub and RAG do the job better, why do we even need a VP for Charities?”

Cherwell also uncovered substantial differences in the amount of money each College raised for RAG.

Regent’s Park raised more than £7000, despite having no charity levy in students’ battels. At other colleges these levies, which are usually charged automatically but can be opted out of, range from £6 to £35 per year. Regent’s JCR held a football tournament in memory of Antonia Bruch, a fresher who died suddenly of meningitis last year, raising £5000 in a single day. James Fox, JCR president admitted, “Considering we only have 100 undergraduates in total, we do tend to punch above our weight in terms of charity events and fundraising.”

St. Edmund’s Hall raised just £26.99 in RAG-affiliated events, although many fundraising events at Teddy Hall and other colleges are not associated with RAG and donate the money raised to charities selected by the JCR. Elizabeth Bell, Charity Rep at Worcester College, told Cherwell of successful Eating Contests, Blind Date Evenings and Slave Auctions. Bell explained the popularity of these college-based fundraising events, saying, “since they are in college they need minimal effort to attend and there are students around so people can go with friends.”
Not all charitable activity in Oxford involves raising money.

Habiba Islam, Somerville’s JCR Charity Representative, noted that there was an “emphasis on different aspects of charity, not just fundraising but also campaigning and volunteering,”at her College. Wadham and Hertford run Kid’s Adventure, a joint volunteering project, and Magdalen has its own Young Carers Project, where students volunteer with young children who care for a family member. Antonia Adebambo, Secretary of the Magdalen Young Carers Project, said ‘the success of this project can obviously not be measured in terms of money raised. Instead, this allows students to make a positive impact on the community and this is something that you really cannot put a price on.’

OxHub President Hannah MacDiarmid commented, “Volunteering is becoming increasingly popular in Oxford as it’s a great way to get students engaged with their community and making a positive difference locally.

“We have projects working on a variety of issues including with the homeless, in schools, with young refugees and on conservation and food waste issues.”

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