According to the calendar, it’s officially fall. I know this not just from the crisp air and the Halloween decorations festooning the stores. I know this from the avalanche of charity solicitations that seem to arrive daily. A quick survey of my email inbox, voice mail and U.S. mail yields appeals for local schools, cancer research, political races and children abroad. There are door bell ringers pitching support for the local high school sports teams and candy sales by youth groups. There are tables manned outside my local grocery store soliciting donations to food banks, clothing banks and environmental causes. Their are victims of floods, shootings and accidents needing help.
I could be well fed in the next few weeks simply by attending fundraising lunches, dinners and cocktail gatherings. Many of these organizations are championed by friends and acquaintances with heartfelt appeals. Some proposals come from strangers. While they are all deserving of time and even money, my family struggles with determining the right mix of priorities. We also want to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Should we support causes closer to our own backyard? What is our backyard?
Is it the schools our children attend?
Is it our city, our region, our country?
What about the rest of the world? How can we decide with all these competing interests?
These are all highly personal questions that can only be addressed by honestly asking questions such as: What is my budget? What are my personal values? Do I care about everything equally? Would I rather direct all my resources in one area to affect as much change as possible or spread my donations and effort around?
In addition to aligning our personal values there is also the question of how much of our money donated actually makes it to the charity’s direct programming. It is well-known that when purchasing a box of Girl Scout cookies for $4.00 the individual troop receives only 50 cents. I sure wish the troops got more for their efforts.
If you have questions about the legitimacy of an organization there is a highly regarded non-profit organization, Charity Navigator, that has useful tools on its website for making informed decisions: http://www.charitynavigator.org/. Their research is extensive and in addition to charity rating evaluations there are site sections such as “Tips for Donors” that include best practices, tips for giving in times of crisis and questions to ask charities before giving. There are top 10 lists which include charities that have overpaid CEOs and charities that consistently receive a high rating. This site provides an easy way to filter.
Armed with information and self-reflection we may feel better about the groups we support: however, that might also mean saying“no” to some. The final step is to give yourself permission to not feel guilty about your choices. People are passionate about their causes and a turn down can seem personal. Permission Slips recommends a simple statement, “I really appreciate your efforts and support your cause, but need to pass on donating at this time.” Then, feel good because you have done what you can to help, based on your personal priorities.
Let us know how you decide.
Carol Lewis Gullstad, September 23, 2013