They used to say it began at home. But charity – whatever that is nowadays – has spread its wings and who can tell where it begins or even where it’s going to end up?

Best keep a tight grip on those causes you hold dear. And fundraisers be warned, some of us have recently grown very picky about where our giving goes.

But are we right to be – or am I worn down by misplaced righteous anger? It’s sometimes hard to be a cynic. You can end up being cynical about your own cynicism… know what I mean?

Hardening of heart – to match hardening of arteries – set in two days before Mother’s Day when my dear old mum picked up the phone to a cold caller who wanted to know whether she’d made a will yet.

“Well, yes…” she said, wondering what business it was of the RNIB.

“Obviously, you’ll have left money to us,” the caller continued. “But the time is right for you to be amending it now – to leave us more.”

The inference being that, since she’s now 87, time to get charitable hands on any of her imagined immense wealth must be running out. Best strike while the iron is if, not hot, at least still breathing.

She is, of course, a better person than I could ever be. Always has been. She doesn’t shout, never swears and if there’s a polite way of doing anything, she’ll find it.

Anne Pickles So, rather than suggesting the caller stick his head down a manhole and breathe deeply of noxious fumes, she said “No, thank you” and hung up.

On the same eventful day, my father received a begging letter from a charity raising funds for prostate cancer research – a day after having being informed tests had shown he didn’t have cancer. Helpfully, the fundraisers had told him how much he should donate – by circling the suggested figure.

The inference in his case seems to have been that relief of lucky escape would surely tug at his generosity strings – and bank account.

“Coincidence?” he asked me.

“Unlikely,” I replied.

He, also being a better person than I, binned the letter and worried about confidentiality issues. He’s concerned now about seeing his doctor about anything – lest it lead to more guilt-tripping letters.

Now, we each of us give what we can, when we can – usually to hospices. And we should know how to shrug off opportunism that has turned many charities into corporate bullies.

But it’s not as easy as that. Even – or perhaps especially – for angry cynics and polite people.

“I do sometimes receive talking books from the audio library,” Mum said, a bit sheepishly. “But I don’t like Danielle Steel… and I have no money.”

Neither of which is quite the point, is it?

If my uneducated estimation is anywhere close to the truth, this is precisely the kind of fundraising most likely to harm smaller, less corporate, largely locally-based charities most deserving of support. And that’s a terrible shame.

My friend, a fundraiser for the hospice movement, has just retired. Finding it hard to give up the day job, she’s now planning to trek the Great Wall of China to raise money for an Asian animal charity. She’s going to be sponsored to rescue moon bears.

There may be trouble ahead. How do I say no – by telling her I’m still supporting hospices? Or do I cough up to avoid guilt-induced discomfort?

And supposing I choose the latter – how great a stretch is it from there to leaving all my worldly goods (such as they’re likely to be) to an outfit dedicated to easing life’s little hardships for distressed gentlefolk, Kanye West or aged prime ministers down on their luck in retirement?

A poor comparison perhaps. But the point is that charity beginning at home doesn’t start with bringing guilt, uninvited, to the door.

Just cool it, guys. Leave vulnerable old folks alone to make their own choices about their giving.

And try to get the message – where there’s a will, without you in it, there’s a document that is absolutely none of your business.