Monday, December 26, 2005

Giving Is Good, Being Pestered About It Is Not

I feel like I’ve been very blessed in this life. I don’t have all of the things and trappings of luxury, but I guess I don’t put that great of a priority on those things anyway. There are many things I would like, but don’t have. Still, my family and I have everything we really need plus a lot of other stuff as well, even if we do drive old cars and don’t wear the latest fashions.

It is partially for this reason that I feel a need to help the less fortunate. Considered objectively, that means the vast majority of other people on this planet. I’m not here to toot my horn about this. Jesus was clear about not liking that kind of thing (see here). I like to consider myself generous in the giving of time and solid resources, but I probably fall very short of C.S. Lewis’ measure of Christian behavior when he wrote, “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” (Mere Christianity, 1996, Touchstone, New York, p. 82)

I like to give time when possible, but I also give food, clothing, money, etc., because many needs simply cannot be met through donation of my time. Over the years I have donated to a broad variety of causes. Lately, however, I have been narrowing the number of causes to which I donate for several reasons.

For starters, I have discovered that it is very important to be fully aware of the nature of the recipient organization/cause. Who runs it? What do they really do – how do they spend the donations? How effective are they? What percentage of the donation actually gets to those in need? Is the aid being given truly helping achieve worthwhile results or is it promoting more social ills?

A few years back I was donating to an organization that I understood was helping to properly care for hiking trails. I was chagrined to later discover that most of its donations were actually spent lobbying politicians and agencies to implement anti-human environmental policies.

One of my pet peeves is the incessant in-your-face pandering for money, even by respectable organizations. I can’t say how thankful I am for caller-ID and the do-not-call listing. Years ago we decided that we would make no donation in response to telephone solicitation. We have politely informed many callers about this, asking that they send us a mailing so that we can consider their worthy cause in light of our family budget. Since many of these nice folks are telemarketers that get paid for getting a donation on the spot, we often never hear from these organizations again.

But it really bothers me when I am repeatedly hounded by organizations I have deemed to be worthy of my donations. Outside of our church or special situations, we usually donate to an organization once annually. It burns my hide, however, when organizations that do much good, like the American Red Cross haunt me with direct mailings up to 20 times throughout the year. How much of my donation do they waste asking me for more money?

It might be better to give anonymously, but that requires a lot of thought and work in our modern financial system. I’d have to get cash (which I usually don’t have in my wallet) and physically drop it off at some place that collects donations for the target organization. There would be no tax deduction, but it might be healthier for the spirit.

I’m afraid that I have been mostly taking the easy road. Organizations that make nuisances of themselves by repeatedly pestering me for funding are cut from my list. I don’t give less in total because the funds are then channeled to fiscally responsible organizations that are more circumspect in their requests for donations. There are even some worthwhile organizations that I know will never solicit from me directly, such as LDS Humanitarian Services.

I truly do want to help others that are less fortunate than me, but I want to make sure that what I do is actually helpful, and I don’t want to be endlessly harangued about it. The boards of charitable organizations should take the nuisance factor into consideration when planning their solicitation campaigns. Otherwise they will lose donors. I imagine that I’m not the only one that dislikes wasteful solicitation tactics enough to quit giving to an organization.


Anonymous said...

The group that bothers me the most isn't a charity. I belong to the NRA, and I'm convinced that any amount of money I donate, that they more than spend it, trying to solicit more money from me.

My employer offers matching donations for United Way, but I dislike United Way. First off they are rather inefficient (though some organizations definately are worse), and the bigger reason I have a problem with them is they political statements they made about boy scouts.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I also have issues with the NRA. While they stand firm on 2nd Amendment issues, they have succeeded in alienating numerous acquaintences of mine by their aggressive solicitation practices.

I am concerned about the NRA comments about the BSA. On the other hand, a Scout camp where I volunteer recently received a number of new .22 rifles donated by the NRA. I'll take actions over words any day.