These days a lot of people have their hands out, eager to take your money. Have you heard of "crowdfunding?" Perfect strangers feel free to ask you to donate to whatever makes them happy. It could be plane tickets to take the family to Disney, a mere $500 to contribute to "the pot" so they can fork over 10 grand to a vanity press, or hotel and registration fees for a conference. They must think I'm the banker in Monopoly!
(In case you think this is too far-fetched, these are all real-life examples. I've been asked to "contribute" to all three "causes.") If you're astonished at the sheer nerve of the people begging, I was too! At first I thought it was a joke and then I realized it was true.
Writers are generous folks and most of us contribute to our favorite charities, whether they are animal shelters, literacy movements, shelters for abused women and so on. I thought it might useful to give a few tips on giving wisely.
1. You have to research where to put your money and where it will do the most good. One very important question is: how much of your donation is actually going to "the cause" and how much is going to the group doing the collecting. Charity Navigator will tell you exactly what percentage of your donation is going to the "cause" and what percentage is being eaten up by executive salaries. Charity Navigator is a good site to know about because they also suggest "alternative charities" that are devoted to the same cause but have a higher "rating."
2. Some police and firefighters often use "for-profit" fundraising services. Be very careful of phone solicitations. I was disappointed to learn that some of these "for profit" groups keep almost ALL the money collected and the police and firefighting organizations only receive pennies on the dollar. Yes, pennies on the dollar!! When they call with their phone pitch, be careful and do some research. Don't just blindly give away your money to them.
3 An interesting site is GIVEWELL, which searches for well-organized, but underfunded charities that desperately need help. These are charities that are well established and have a proven track record.
4. Every little bit helps. Don't worry that the amount is too small, many charities operate on a shoestring and are desperate for money. One of our local animal shelters sent out an e-mail alert that they were completely out of canned cat food. That meant they couldn't medicate cats (because they need wet food to add the crushed pills to) and they couldn't feed sick cats with dental problems. I rushed over with my credit card. They literally needed the money right then and I couldn't stand to think of the animals going without their medication over the week-end.
5. If you can't donate money, think about donating your time. Many of my writer pals are animal lovers and routinely donate their time and talent by writing press releases for animal shelters, writing fund raising letters for animal charities and even writing speeches for shelter directors. This is another way of giving and I bet you can think of some special "talent" that you can donate.
6. This is a good time to organize your donations for 2015. If you can give a little to your favorite charity every month, that is very valuable. Charities need to know what their operating budgets are and having a steady source of donations really helps them.
Good luck and happy giving!