It seems you can get away with just about anything in the name of charity. Since 2014, Glasgow University Charity Fashion Show (GUCFS) has received universal admiration on campus for its ability to combine professionalism with a meaningful charitable cause. The launch of this year’s fashion show in October 2015, was the place to be for anyone who wanted to be seen with the great and good of student events. Last year, GUCFS benefitted from the generosity of the Chancellor’s Fund, but from the outside, it appears to have been an an exercise in student vanity and careerism. Those who see the show as self-indulgent and overly commercialised have been prevented from speaking out because, theoretically, it is “all for a good cause”.
When an organisation that puts the word ‘charity’ in its name, calls itself a “philanthropic entity”, spends £11,000 on procuring the services of an events management company, and then gives just £3000 to charity, it is easy to see what its priorities are. Yet, at the time, the committee insisted that the 2015 event was “astoundingly successful”, despite never declaring on social media how much it actually donated to charity.
The odd thing is that no one seems to have noticed. Nobody, even those associated with GUCFS, seems to have been particularly interested actually fulfilling the society’s core objective of raising money for charity. When G-You interviewed GUCFS, there was not a single question about the charitable donation the society hoped to make. When The Skinny covered the show, it was content to focus on the “startlingly marvellous fashion, beautiful Weegie students and a killer afterparty [sic]”.
GUCFS defines itself as an opportunity for students to gain creative experience working on a high-profile project. Indeed, its image is impressively professional and, for a relatively new arrival on campus, it has managed to gain a lot of recognition – but at a cost. This emphasis on ‘looking professional’ has hugely overshadowed any semblance of competence, pushing costs to an absurd level.
The Chancellor’s Fund, too, had its part to play in sponsoring what was, essentially, a vanity project. The Chancellor’s Fund must realise that the £8,000 it gave to this project would have been better spent if it had given the money directly to charity, bypassing the egregious financial waste of the fashion show altogether. The Chancellor’s Fund gives financial support to many worthwhile student-centred projects on campus, but it is clear that GUCFS is not one of them. The priority from the outset seems to have been to organise the most elaborate, most expensive event on campus, with very little consideration given to the intended recipient – the Beatson Pebble Appeal. Other universities have charity fashion shows, many of which spend considerably more than £11,000, but it seems that, last year, GUCFS was intent on spending as much as possible in order to compete with them on that basis alone, regardless of how much it would ultimately donate to charity.
Costs were allowed to spiral out of control and, the salient fact is that GUCFS could have donated considerably more to the cause that made the society so appealing to so many, including the Chancellor’s Fund.
GUCFS has become little more than an opportunity for already high-profile students to play at being campus celebrities, while maintaining the pretence of generosity and goodwill. If costs had been kept under control, and the egos of particular individuals kept in check, the society would have been able to invest the money it received from the Chancellor’s Fund sensibly in the future of the society and, in all likelihood, donated significantly more to the Beatson Pebble Appeal. While, the objective of the GUCFS is admirable, the execution, last year, was shocking in terms of cost. If it hopes to make a larger donation to charity this year, the current committee should learn from the mistakes of the recent past, bearing in mind that a charity, however noble its ambitions, must operate with financial good sense. The donation it made to the Beatson Pebble Appeal was better than nothing, but if it is truly to fulfil its potential as a charitable enterprise, its costs must be in proportion to its total projected donation to charity.