Thursday, August 11, 2011

Buried under charity envelopes

Once you start giving to charity, charity starts giving back.  That is, you get envelope after envelope after envelope.  You don't ever need to write your own return address by hand again, and you'll have more note cards, calendars, and shopping list pads than you know what to do with.

Not to mention guilt and angst.  Even if you have no guilt about tossing all those requests, it's easy to have qualms about which charities we do choose to give to.  "Today I recycled the plea for Children who need Chocolate, but last month I sent $30 to Save the Snails.  Does that really reflect my values?"  It's also easy to forget which charities you've given money to in the past year:  "Did I forget to send a check to Trees of the Tundra this year?  Or did I already accidentally send three checks?"
The beginning of this year's charity request collection.
Here's my method for dealing with this.  I save all request envelopes that come to my home in one place, in my desk.  (Periodically, I go through and toss duplicates).  Then, once a year, I pull out all the envelopes, and my husband and I decide what we're giving money to.  We begin with broad areas.  For example, for us, we aim for a mixture of broadly global (e.g., Doctors without Borders) and very local (our city food bank).  We donate mostly to organizations that feed or cure people, but we balance bread with roses (our local theater and our public radio station each get our money).

You'll see urgent pleas during the year:  We need this right now!  But usually, the place that can afford to send me unsolicited requests can really afford to wait a few months for my little check.  So I don't feel guilty holding onto the envelope until I'm good and ready.

I know from being involved with non-profits that even a little bit of money helps.  When organizations go out asking for bigger sums (either from wealthier people or from granting agencies), one of the statistics that matters is how many people donate.  Giving even $5 to your alma mater increases the "percentage of alumni who give back".  So your gift to a charity is bigger than the money that you give.

And the places that my husband and I don't contribute to?  I used to just toss all those envelopes.  Now I decide to be a little more generous by spending 44¢ on them; I send back the donation form with a note, "Please remove us from this mailing list."  I figure the note reduces the amount of paper I have to recycle, and it saves that organization all the money it would have wasted mailing me nickels or calendars or worse.  [Actually, Samaritan's Purse recently responded to this request with a nice note saying that they'll stop sending me stuff from now on, but the note came with an autobiography of its president, Franklin Graham.  Cool.]

This is part of what I call "thoughtful giving", meaning that we have to sit down and make the decision to give this money.  Next Thursday, I'll write about "thoughtless giving" -- some regular, automatic ways of donating to causes and charities.

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