If you give your money to a cause or to someone in need, you have engaged in an act of charity. On the other hand, if I take that same money from you and give it to the same cause or person in need as you would have, I have engaged in an act of theft. The same money is given to the same recipient, but the nobility of the act is severely compromised. Charity is a wonderful thing, but theft is reprehensible, even when the point of the theft is to do good to others. Everyone on the same page? Good, let’s press on.

The ONE Campaign has publicly stated a number of noble goals such as eliminating poverty and global diseases like AIDS, but it is a failure as a charity organization. A recent news report out of England explains the problem:

Bono’s anti-poverty foundation ONE is under pressure to explain its finances after it was revealed that only a small percentage of money it raises reaches the needy.

The non-profit organisation set up by the U2 frontman received almost £9.6million in donations in 2008 but handed out only £118,000 to good causes (1.2 per cent).

The figures published by the New York Post also show that £5.1million went towards paying salaries.

Just over one percent of its money was donated to some charity cause. I guess I now know why it’s called ONE. And if more than half the money paid the salaries of ONE employees, where did the rest go?

ONE spokesman Oliver Buston has now defended the way the organisation is run, insisting the money is used for promoting its campaign and raising awareness rather than being given straight to those who need help.

He said: ‘We don’t provide programmes on the ground. We’re an advocacy and campaigning organisation.’

Ah. Raising awareness. Yeah, that’s certainly helpful. We should all spend a night in a cardboard box to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless. Not that it would actually do anything to help the homeless, but we could feel good about our ineffectual efforts later.

This isn’t the first time ONE has come to my attention. Back in 2007, I noticed ONE’s website and celebrity endorsement, and I wrote about it then. Their tagline back then was “We’re not asking for your money. We’re asking for your voice.” When I visited the ONE website after reading the Daily Mail article, I noticed that little had changed in the past three years. They are still asking for your voice, and they are still not asking for your money. Well, not directly.

But they are asking for your money. They just don’t want to deal with the piddling amounts given out by individuals. Instead, ONE wants to go after the big bucks that can be provided by governments. One of the causes on the ONE website is a petition to be sent to Pres. Obama, urging him to fund the effort to stop the spread of HIV from mother to child. That’s a wonderful goal, and I would applaud anyone willing to voluntarily contribute to such a cause. But ONE doesn’t want your voluntary charitable giving, they want forced charitable giving from all Americans in the form of $5 billion in U.S. government taxation. That works out to about $16.67 from every man, woman and child – taxpayer or not – living here in the States. I’m sure most Americans wouldn’t miss it, since we could provide such funds by going without snacks for a week or two. But the amount of money per capita isn’t the point. Taking money from one person to give to another isn’t charity. It’s theft.

And theft is wrong, even when it goes to a good cause or if the government is doing it.

The ONE Campaign needs you.

You can visit the ONE Campaign at www.one.org, but be prepared to have it ask you to join on the very first screen. And when you sign up, you can feel good. After all, you have really done something to fight the twin horrors of AIDS and poverty. Now pat yourself on the back.

What? You don’t believe that you have really accomplished something great? How did the video above end? “We’re not asking for your money. We’re asking for your voice.” So you signed up and gave them your voice. Somewhere Ursula must be working for the ONE Campaign. Under the link of “Why add your name?” comes a further explanation — “Why add your name to ONE? As our numbers grow, so does our influence. Together we can show our leaders that Americans demand an end to global poverty and AIDS. Don’t worry, we won’t share your information with anybody else; we don’t want your money, we want your voice.”

Ursula, indeed.

OK, so I sign up — type type type — and now I don’t need to be personally concerned about AIDS and poverty any more. I’ve done my part. I love making a difference! Back to playing The Lord of the Rings Online, secure in the knowledge that I’ve done my bit to destroy AIDS and poverty. Way to go ME! *pat pat pat* Next, I’m going to end homelessness by sleeping in a box, and eliminate cancer by wearing a wristband.

But if, for some reason, contributing your voice doesn’t seem enough and you’re interested to know what else you can do, the ONE Campaign has a list of actions you can take:

  1. Sign the declaration
  2. Email a friend
  3. Wear the wristband
  4. Host a banner
  5. Get Involved

And if that’s not enough for you, you can even have your Yahoo avatar wear a ONE Campaign t-shirt. “Your avatar is now an official supporter of the ONE Campaign!” That’s pretty much as useful as anything that’s been accomplished so far.

Step 1 and 2 involve adding more names to the list of ONE supporters. Step 3 is simple advertisement. Despite the fact that they’re not asking for my money, there is a “donate” option on their capitalism page. And note the disclaimer under the donation option: “Contributions to ONE Action are not tax deductable; they support our advocacy and lobbying efforts in the fight against global AIDS and extreme poverty.” Step 4 is just linking back to the ONE Campaign, so it’s more simple advertisement. It’s not until Step 5 that ONE actually offers you an option to do something. And that “something” is primarily spreading the gospel of the ONE Campaign.

Tom Hanks ends the ONE video by saying, “We’re not asking for your money. We’re asking for your voice.” Really? If the ONE Campaign isn’t asking for my money, then how does it intend to end AIDS and poverty in places like Africa? Shall we shower the poor and ill with signatures? How exactly does my voice, without the power of my money, help anyone?

The truth is that the ONE Campaign does want your money, but not directly. It prefers to get money from you in the form of government taxation to pay for their causes. I much prefer to bypass bureaucracies and actually do something effective with my money by giving it to worthwhile philanthropic causes. My favorite is Humanitarian Aid because 100% of all money donated goes to help people in need. So a donation of money, food, or items to Humanitarian Services will be directly transferred to someone who needs help, rather than being filtered through some government official or bureaucrat in the form of tax monies.

I know, giving to a charity like Humanitarian Aid won’t provide the same thrill as seeing movie actors ask for your voice, but it will actually help someone. The ONE Campaign lets you feel good without actually doing anything useful. I prefer to help people.