DUCK Responds

DUCK Chair Jack Heriz-Smith responds to a recent opinion piece questioning the charitable function of the organisation.

I would like to correct a few of errors I believe were made in the recent debate piece, ‘DUCK Expeditions: Not all what they’re cracked up to be’, and clarify a few things that do unfortunately fall under the category of common misconceptions:

The money donated to the charitable portion of the expedition goes to that charity, whether it’s Save the Children who receive over £30,000 a year from the DUCK Kilimanjaro trip, or any of the other reputable, carefully chosen partners DUCK works with. The donations from family and friends toward the cost of the trip only go, in almost every case, to the cost of the flights and the costs incurred whilst volunteering – the accommodation and transport, as well as the locally sourced equipment and skilled labour that our in-country partners spend the few months prior to our arrival preparing and coordinating.

The idea that students could collect money to fund their short breaks on various beaches, safaris and so on is not one that DUCK supports, unlike the dozens of other rags and student adventure companies throughout the UK. The vast majority of expeditioneers manage to afford such incredible experiences by earning money in the Christmas and Easter breaks from ‘jobs’, which do still exist in many places throughout the UK.

The attack on the way DUCK sells its expeditions to students is a bit misguided, unfortunately. If we take Oxfam as an example of the kind of adverts you mention seeing on TV, similarly there will be people for whom the shameless capitalisation on ‘privileged Western guilt’ doesn’t sit right – and yet the money raised through such campaigns clearly benefits those who appreciate a bit of extra help overseas.

In the same way, DUCK markets its expeditions towards students in order to make up the numbers on expeditions that have been calculated to achieve the most effective work in these countries. If the poster makes it look like the expeditions are fun, well, sometimes they are. That isn’t to say that the hard work that 130 students put in every year on projects around the world aren’t beneficial to the respective local areas – which they are.

The assertion that sending actual people to meet those that the volunteering benefits and experience first hand the conditions in areas in dire situations is a waste when compared with just sending the money and leaving them to sort it out amongst themselves is naive, not to mention historically and notoriously a bad move.

Loathe as I am to rise to the bait of addressing the attack on the hypocrisy of DUCK’s allegiance to KPMG, I might remind you that corporate sponsorship is a ‘necessary evil’ in charity, everywhere. A quick example, for the sake of ease we’ll look at Oxfam once more, leads us to this page, which shows quite a nice array of ‘those corporate bastards’ who have probably at one point acted shiftily, but whose money nevertheless, again, helps achieve incredible things throughout the world.

By the same token, the reason that the cost of DUCK’s events are kept so low for the participants is directly because of the money we are fortunate to have been granted. I guess you just have to ask if their money is better off helping a charity do good in the world, or buying the CEO’s next Ferrari. Incidentally (and somewhat ironically), our Alumni Officer got an internship with Ernst & Young before she signed up for an expedition, and used that money she earned to fund the trip.

On the topic of “Durham students commendably rais[ing] money for charity with DUCK putting in no work at all, yet still claim[ing] the fundraising as their own”, the article, unfortunately yet again, misunderstood what DUCK represents. DUCK is not a society, with a point to prove or competitors to beat; it is the fundraising arm of the students’ union, of which you and everyone else in the University is a member.

By implying that DUCK somehow gets this twisted sense of satisfaction out of claiming that we’ve raised money that we haven’t, it miss the point entirely; it is in fact in everybody’s interests that as accurate a summation of Durham students’ fundraising as possible is represented to the union, the University and around the UK. DUCK was awarded Best Fundraising Team of the Year by the Institute of Fundraising (I know, a pretty big deal! We were all pretty chuffed), to which we owe everything to the students we represent who made our presence on a national level possible.

Another allegation is that the dozens of volunteers who support DUCK put in no work; when everyone I know in DUCK is putting more hours per week into DUCK than their degree, and undoubtedly more than the average student journalist, this is just downright offensive. Incidentally, DUCK helps coordinate the collections at those formals and fashion shows that were mentioned, and was the reason that library fines went to charity on that fine day late last term, FYI.

One thing we do agree on is that the figures are up on the website for all to see – not because we have to, as you seem to accuse, but because it is important to us that anybody who ever donates to or through us knows where their money is going. Incidentally, if anyone has any questions about the breakdown of donations, the allocations process (when we divide our funds at the end of the year amongst local and relevant charity applicants) or if you have advice for how we can improve our transparency further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at [email protected].

The tagline “Get Involved” does indeed underpin everything DUCK aims to offer students from every walk of life, and as a result does tend to become overused. I apologise if it gets a bit much sometimes, but to argue that it inhibits “mindless” behaviour doesn’t really give the folk smart enough to be at University in the first place much credit does it? Again, if you are ever in doubt as to where the money goes, just check the website. It’s pretty comprehensive.

Think of the Children in Need allocations process: when you’re watching Doctor Who doing an episode for charity, do they explicitly tell you all about their incredibly tough process of charities applying and receiving grants after the episode? Absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less happy to provide you with any information about the process should you go looking for it.

We’d love for everyone who does get involved with DUCK to trust that we know what we’re doing when we hand out £25,000 at the end of each year to local and worthy causes, but in the case that they don’t, everything we do is as transparent and accessible as you’ll find in the third sector.

A final point to make on the subject of getting involved: we’re all here for a limited time, and DUCK exists to provide student development too – what better way to develop your skills in event management, web design, responsible delegation, ‘research and development’ (the list really is endless) than doing all of these things in one place and for a huge variety of great causes?

This will be my third year on the DUCK exec, and I cannot express to you how much I have learnt from DUCK along the way. Fundamentally, ‘Get Involved’ is extending an offer to those enthusiastic enough to grab opportunities and welcome new and exciting things into their lives – Jailbreak, walking on coals, bungee jumping, Zombie Evacuation and various marathons are just some examples of the things we run to help the more adventurous Durham students escape the humdrum of Durham life as well as their own comfort zones.

Finally, and I will wrap up because I have gone on a bit, it was very good of you to include and praise the events that we’re best known for; that 97% going to charity really is a great statistic, and we are always trying to get information like this out to the the student body – we’re currently working on a marketing team to head this up (if anyone is interested in graphic design, your skills are sorely required – again, drop me an email! Get Involved, it looks great on your CV!).

To this list should of course be added the events that have happened already this term with similar statistics but have maybe flown under your radar somewhat: the Fire Walk, Zombie Evacuation, biweekly ragraids, this weekend’s Jailbreak, the ongoing Pennies for Pudsey campaign (your college reps should be coming round to check up on progress this week!), Back 2 School, Hellvelyn Run, scavenger hunts, dare nights, Krispy Kremes, pyjama parties, charity auctions, DUCK formals… And the list of what’s to come is even longer and more exciting, so keep reading our garish weekly emails!