Friday, January 23, 2015

GIVE GENEROUSLY, BUT WISELY

by Mary Kennedy                                  
 
 
 
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!
Mary Kennedy

23 comments:

Kathy Clock said...

Excellent suggestions and reminders. There are so many appeals for funds on social media and so many seem to support without any research at all.

Kell Brigan said...

Charity Navigator is a good source for info on charities, also. http://www.charitynavigator.org/

Linda Reilly said...

Terrific post, Mary, and a timely one. One thing I love about donating to my local animal shelter is that I can actually go there and see how the operation is run. I've also delivered bags of kitten food when it was most needed. Thanks for the Charity Navigator link--I'm saving it as a fave!

mary kennedy said...

Hi Linda, I'm so glad you like the blog. I love the idea of seeing firsthand how the money is being spent. Thanks for stopping by.

mary kennedy said...

HI Kell, thanks so much for stopping by. It's good to know where our money is going.

mary kennedy said...

HI Kathy, you are so right, thanks for stopping by.

Karen in Ohio said...

Well-researched essay, Mary. Thank you.

Our street just formed a Neighborhood Watch group, and we had our first meeting in December. The community police officer advised against contributing to those callers who purport to collect for the police and fire department.

I have a firm rule that I tell everyone who calls here, looking for a donation: I NEVER donate to someone who calls me on the phone. Period. We already identified our favorite charities, a long time ago, and those are the only ones we donate to, unless we decide to donate to some special cause.

Trana said...

Good info, Mary.

mary kennedy said...

Karen, that's a very good approach. I wish I could figure out a way to end the phone calls--the "Do Not Call" list is not working for me. The calls just keep on coming...thanks for stopping by.

mary kennedy said...

Hi Trana, how are you doing, good to hear from you!

Maggie Sefton said...

I agree, Mary. I never give to phone solicitors. I give to all the "diseases" and to the local Animal Shelter which does great work and to the local shelter for abused women. But the lion's share of my yearly contributions go to four charities which I KNOW get the money right to the people who need it---Larimer County Food Bank which provides food to people who need it, the Fort Collins Mission which provides beds for the homeless every night, the local Salvation Army which is the first agency to respond whenever there are storm disasters (cooking food on their movable truck-kitchen and bringing blankets and clothes), and one non-local organization, St. Vincent's Clinic in Galveston, TX which services the "working poor." Internal Med doctor daughter Serena volunteers there every other weekend, and I've visited and seen the good work they do.

mary kennedy said...

Those sound like wonderful charities, Maggie. And how cool that your daughter volunteers at the St. Vincent's Clinic. That's a wonderful thing to do. Thanks for stopping by!

Grandma Cootie said...

I have identified our charities and how we will contribute and stick with it. I wait for the first breath during the phone call and politely say "No, thank you." and instantly hang up. I used to feel guilty but not anymore, because even the fire department and police are tricky and start the call telling you how much crime has increased or how many people have perished in fires. I didn't know crowd funding had a name, but I was amazed the first time I realized that polite young person at my door wasn't trying to go to college or collecting for a cause except the cause of "I want to go to Disneyland." I wanted to say that so did I, which was why I got a job, became responsible. Now it's just no thanks and firmly shut the door. And I don't run to answer the door on the first ring of the bell. They not only want the money for nothing, they are impatient about it so will usually give up and leave.

Telephone calls are frustrating. Even my doctor's office shows up as private number so I can't let them all go to the machine like I used to.

Anonymous said...

I typed in a comment but it didn't publish so will try again.
I live within 2 miles of both an elementary and high school so will usually buy a fund-raising raffle ticket when a kid comes to my door. Otherwise, I give to my local food bank, Heat Oregon which pays electrical bills for people in need, and few selected national/international good charities. I have decided I won't give any more to Doctors without Borders even though I really like its work because it persists in sending me 1-3 solicitation letters per month. I specifically checked that I only wanted the donation receipt in paper form and anything else via email. It ignores me so I'll ignore it. Cordella

mary kennedy said...

That's a smart way to handle it, Grandma Cootie!!

mary kennedy said...

I know what you mean, I donate to six "big" animal welfare organizations and they deluge me with calendars, fountain pens, pet blankets and umbrellas. I wish they would keep the money for the animals, and have told them so. And the phone calls are really annoying.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

An extremely useful post, Mary - we do have to watch out for all these requests. Great discussion too! I hate the thought that we will get fatigued by incessant requests when many needs are so great. I've started to call the 1-800 numbers to say if you want to retain me as a donor, it's one request and no junk (calendars etc). If they keep coming, I keep going!

Hugs.

MJ

Aubrey Hamilton said...

Thank you for a thoughtful analysis of a problem most of us have. As soon as I give to one group, they spread the word and all similar groups want me to give. I stopped responding to the mail solicitations and they have tapered off, not stopped, but slowed. Occasionally I will bundle the solicitations into a big envelope and send them back with a note saying I cannot give them money and to remove me from their mailing list. Last year I returned all but two of the calendars I received with a note that I could not support their fundraiser this year. I am expecting that I'll receive fewer calendars this coming year. I compiled my donations list today for my tax return and I noticed fewer donations of money and more donations of goods, for instance of food to animal shelters. Most of the money donations are to very small groups, the large ones seem to know how to raise money and don't need me. In self-defense I've stopped answering the phone unless I know who it is, because chances are it's a solicitor of some kind. I don't open the door to strangers, I open the window near the door to ask what they want, much harder for them to sell that way. Frustrating to me because I am innately generous but I only have so much money and I want my donation to make a difference.

Lynda Turpin said...

Very good post Mary. There is a lot of really good information there. I'm going to save the links for future reference.

Except for donating needed items to the Animal Shelter and Lapcats Rescue, I don't donate a lot of money to charities (most of my free cash goes to taking care of the fosters and ferals). But before I retired and started volunteering, I used to donate to a number of charities like the Cancer Society, a woman's shelter, HSUS, etc. But I got so tired of the repeated solicitations that I finally just stopped donating. If they would have just accepted the donations and not harassed me, I might have continue. Once, I had donated to a local Sheriff's neighborhood after school program, but then the solicitation calls started and were insistent. I didn't realize that they hire "for profit" groups to do their soliciting. Now that you mentioned that - it makes sense. I did find out later that politicians and charities are exempt from the "Do Not Call" regulations. So now, I don't answer my land line. I give my cell number to people I want to talk to. I have an answering machine at home, and if someone needs to reach me, they can leave a message. Most of the calls are "hangups".

What was irritating to me is that, when my dad went into assisted living and I was getting his mail and taking are of his finances, I found out that he had been contributing to EVERY charity that contacted him. He thought that if they sent him something (he had several THOUSAND address labels) that he needed to send them money. And he couldn't say "no" to people who called. After more than a year, we are still getting address labels, notepads, calendars, key chains, etc. and asking him to continue his donations. I wonder how many other elderly people are sucked in like that and how much of their donated money is spent on this type of solicitation?

Well, anyway, I admire that you contribute to worthy causes, and it is really smart to make sure that your donations are being spent on what they were intended. There are so many worthy causes that you don't need to be contributing to some CEO's new boat. Have a great day....

mary kennedy said...

HI MJ, I so agree! I've asked them not to send me stuff but it still keeps on coming. I've been e-mailing my request, but that's a good idea about calling the 1-800 numbers, Glad you suggested it! Thanks for stopping by.

mary kennedy said...

HI Aubrey, I remember reading that the groups "share" donor's contact information and that our e-mail addresses are valuable to them. No wonder we are deluged--it gets worse every year. I think you came up with a good solution! Thanks so much for stopping by!

mary kennedy said...

HI Linda, the "after school program" run by the local police is the worst offender. The caller gets something like 70% of the money raised, the amount that trickles down to fund the program is pennies on the dollar. I first learned of this when I met someone who was bragging about how much "cash" he had collected by introducing himself as "Sergeant" on the phone. He was very pleased with himself and laughing at the "suckers" who agreed to send money. It's sad that people can be so heartless! Thank you for all that you do for the animals, you are amazing!

Robert Giddings said...

Great advice. I was forced in to an early retirement, difficult at first, but now although I don't have a lot of extra money I do have reasonablly good health and a lot of extra time to volunteer. So many agencies could not funtion with out volunteers. Read to kids,and seniors, play with shelter pets, mentoring, SCORE, whatever your background and skills, someone would love to have you help out a couple hours.

If you can spend an easy couple hours making someone else life easier or better why wouldn't you?