Thomas Cohen: “We want to change attitudes towards charity”


Raise Durham is a part of a national charity initiative that works to change the way students think about giving while raising money for the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). Speaking to Thomas Cohen, the Vice-President of the group and a second year historian at St Cuthbert’s Society, was both inspiring and exciting as he explained Raise’s plans as they move forward at Durham.

“We have three main aims. One is to make a big impact by raising money for the Against Malaria Foundation each year. We do this by asking students for a personally significant donation and by providing matched funding, allowing every single donation to have a very sizable impact.

“Importantly, we also want to change people’s attitudes towards charity, framing it in a positive way and as an important experience that can enrich your life.

“Finally, we want to make a connection between charity and celebration, showing people that you can celebrate by giving to charity and that it’s a really amazing and rewarding way to celebrate, at the end of the academic year.”
Raise aims to encourage donations of significant amounts from students, promoting a new culture of giving.

“You can celebrate by giving to charity”

We are now in a stage of environmental consciousness marked by increased human awareness. Cohen cites “the fact that the whole world has put support into finding a vaccine” as evidence of humanity’s sense of collective responsibility.

Cohen details Raise’s the plans for the year ahead. “The main thing we want to do is encourage people to celebrate the end of the academic year by making a donation to charity. We ask for a personally significant amount with a recommended donation of £100 – so it’s a substantial amount. We hope that giving a significant amount changes people’s approach to charity, so that the donation is not an afterthought or obligation, but a deliberate and significant decision, however much that is for you. By really having to engage with the charity and the impact one’s donation will make, and really having to think about joining Raise, we hope to create a long term mindset change whereby people are more likely to give to charity in the future.”

It’s an ambitious plan, and Cohen is clear in expressing that, although Raise has a £100 recommended donation, they are inclusive and take into account people’s different financial situations, and their ask is for a donation of personal significance.

The proposition that Raise makes requires widespread student participation and engagement with their ethos. Cohen explained how they hope to garner interest: “to spread our message around Durham we are hoping to use social media. We have a big community of reps in colleges who will have conversations with people and talk to them to spread our message and our philosophy. We also have some events hopefully lined up for next term and the end of the year as well.”

Next term, Raise will hold a launch in order to gain traction in the university and interest from students about their initiative. At the end of the year, there will also be an event where everyone who donated can come together to celebrate and reflect upon their collective impact.

“We hope that giving a significant amount changes people’s approach to charity”

Raise aspires to foster a large-scale commitment to their philosophy. Cohen elaborates on the number of people currently involved as well as on how to join their community of giving. “We have 13 people on committee at the moment, we had a big applications process, with interviews for committee. We also have over 40 reps and are hoping to get even more.

“To get involved and be a part of the movement, all you have to do is engage with our message and make a donation to celebrate the end of the academic year.”

The movement is hoping for engagement from all across the university, and although they have a core of the committee and representatives, they want to foster a large community to be involved in their charity.

Billy Allday, a part of the Raise fundraising team in Durham, stated that he got involved with the group as he was interested to be “more involved in the charity side of the Durham community.”

As a new group in Durham, Raise will be competing with many other more established charity initiatives at the University, both for donations and participation. However, Luke Stuart, a part of the publicity team for Raise, has stated that they are both “excited and motivated to alter people’s approach to giving and make as big of an impact as possible.”

Following on from this, Cohen illustrates why he believes that Raise will work in Durham: “there is a very big focus around charity in Durham with the Charity Fashion Show and DUCK, which are both really successful. We hope that our different approach to charity can make a big impact and catch on here as it has in other universities.

“We know that what we are asking for is quite a lot. £100 is likely more than what any student would have given to charity before, so it’s going to be difficult to try and show people why we ask for that amount. We hope that by having this large recommended donation, we can generate active engagement among students, and demonstrate the value of celebrating by giving.”

“We know we are asking for quite a lot… likely more than what any student would have given to charity before”

Cohen goes on to explain the differences between Raise and Durham’s current charitable groups. “The big difference is that with initiatives such as the Charity Fashion Show, you buy a ticket to the event. With both the Charity Fashion Show and DUCK, the emphasis, at least to an extent, lies on the event that is organised and not the donation. Raise specifically puts the emphasis on the donation, showing that donating in itself can be a very rewarding experience.

“Although we do have some events throughout the year, the donation to Raise in no way constitutes a ticket to such an event. The events we organise are externally financed, meaning that, thanks to our matched funding, 200% of your donation goes to charity.” He emphasises Raise’s aim to create a long-term change in people’s idea of feeling good and doing good.

The celebration philosophy is a big part at Raise, and the Against Malaria Foundation has a similar philosophy at its core. Thomas explained that Raise recommends donating to AMF as it is “independently rated as one of the most effective charities in the world.” He goes on to explain that “by donating £100 you can help protect 230 people from malaria, which is an amazing impact.”

Students can get involved with the Raise initiative while supporting other charities, but all matched funding will still go to AMF. The matched funding is something that Raise Durham’s President Susanne Karbe prioritises, as it heightens the charity’s “potential for impact” alongside its long-term goals.

Raise is an initiative that operates nationally. As a movement, it has already made over £150,000 and is working on (Raise) expanding into more universities. Cohen explains how the group is structured on a national level: “Raise is a national movement that started in Cambridge in 2018 and now has chapters at four different universities. There are Raise groups in Cambridge, Oxford, Glasgow and Durham. The national movement gives us support and the philosophy is constant throughout the four universities.

“We try and achieve the same thing but adapt to the different circumstances at each university. We have a slightly different recommended donation and a slightly different way of framing everything.” The recommended donation at Cambridge is £150, which Cohen explains is linked to the prices of its May Balls.

“Although we suggest a £100 donation, we welcome any amount that is significant to you.”

Finally, Cohen hopes that Raise can build a community in Durham and make a big impact and change throughout people’s lives by encouraging celebration through charitable giving.

“The main thing I want to get across is that, although we suggest a £100 donation, we welcome any amount that is significant to you.”

Students can expect lots of social media activity and action from Raise throughout their first year at Durham University. If you are interested in finding out more, you can visit their Facebook page ‘Raise Durham – A Celebration of Giving’.

Image: Raise

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