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Home > Blog > The Giving Dilemma
Out of Our Minds
Sunday, July 25, 2004 11:12 AM
The Giving Dilemma
Anita Sharpe on Life

Until recently, contributing to my friends' charities was easy and affordable since I only got several requests a month.

But suddenly this spring, things changed. I began getting, on average, about 5 requests a day for charity donations. And most were personal. Many people I know began walking or running for great causes. Others agreed to send out personal notes on behalf of various charities (yesterday, I received a hand-written note from a neighbor I not only have never met, I have never even seen.) All of the causes are worthy; virtually all of the requesters are friends, or at least nice people I would like to help.

But then I did the math. If I gave the minimum amount (about $25) to each cause, I would be shelling out roughly $2,500 a month or $30,000 a year. Unable to pick and choose among friends and causes, I began to toss each request into a basket in my kitchen until I came up with an answer.

Here's my solution: Instead of giving small amounts to my friends' various charities, I'm going to give a meaningful amount to a handful of causes that I care about personally.

If anyone has found a better way to handle this, I'd love to hear it.


9 comments

Mindwalker - 11/24/2004 10:04:08 AM
I want to share a posting I made this morning to our corporate intranet. It reminded me recall this blog discussion.

The question in the intranet was 'What new service offerings can we bring to our customers?'

Here was my reply:

Add a 'Donate' option to Quill.com
Posted: 11-24-2004 09:57 AM
SUMMARY:
Add a 'Donate' option to Quill.com

BACKGROUND:
At any grocery store, there are always coupons available where you can purchase 'quick donations' for charities that support feeding the hungry, breast cancer research, AIDS research, and others. As you're checking out, you grab a coupon for $1, $2 or $5 and add it to your order. The teller then scans it and the total is added to your bill.

It's all very fast and very simple.

PROPOSAL:
We should consider adopting a similar methodology on Quill.com. When you go to checkout, there should be an option that reads 'Would you like to make a small donation today?' The customer would click a check box ($1, $2, $5) and the total would be added to their order. No fuss, no muss. So fast, so simple.

- Non-partisan
- Must be stressed that this is voluntary.
- Rotate charities for maximum exposure
- One month, donations could go to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation
- Next month, donations go to PADS. And so on and so forth.

BENEFITS:
- Good Migration tactic: people will order online just so they can donate again
- Quill gets a LOT of good publicity
- It makes us a better corporate citizen than we are today
- Our customers become a bigger part of the story (more than just sources of revenue).
- It's the right thing to do.

DRAWBACKS:
- Charities must be non-political
- Customers might mis-perceive this as being 'required' when it's not
ah - 8/22/2004 10:15:19 PM
Just wait until everyone who wants 'meaningful' work starts working for those NFPs they're so eager to find, organizations which survive by soliciting small and large contributions, and which often reward their employees for fund-raising. Social life will increasingly resemble multi-level-marketing.

I have told my selected good causes and their official and unofficial solicitors that I will support them annually IF no one phones, writes or otherwise solicits me. And I do, including a note of explanation with no donation if I am solicited.

Life has improved considerably now that I no longer am a sitting duck for guilt trips, tangled in the shared-mailing-list thicket.
Melanie - 7/28/2004 10:49:51 AM
I'd like to pick up a little on what Lee said about volunteering. Sometimes donating hours takes a back seat to donating funds. Not that organizations don't need the money, but they also need warm bodies and extra pairs of hands. I find that even though I can't financially support every cause I believe is worthwhile, I have a flexible enough schedule that I can give of my time. So when you are at the end of your donation budget for the month and your friend the breast cancer survivor is doing a run and wants your money, offer to volunteer to hand out water at the event instead. You show your support to her and the cause, and get to see another side of the organization at the same time. Writing a check: $25-$50 and a line in your bank book.
Making a kid smile, stuffing envelopes, teaching someone to read, feeding the hungry: priceless.
anita - 7/27/2004 9:48:14 PM
Todd,

I have for years made deliberate donations along with giving to friends charities. I agree setting aside a set amount is a good forumla to follow. It's likely true that the 5 a day pace of requests will subside, but I receive a number of invitations to $250-$1,000 a plate charity dinners. So the dollar amount could be an over estimate, but not a wild over estimate.
Todd W. - 7/27/2004 4:32:49 PM
It seems distinctly American to wring our hands about charity overload. Not sure if that's a positive or negative remark.

Its hard to tell from your post, but it seems that you never considered making deliberate donations backed by your own beliefs until contributing to your friends' causes began to appear to be a financial burden. You may want to follow a Biblical 'tithe', setting aside 10% of your earnings to return to God. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you could demark a specific percentage of your income for charity and splitting that amound amongst your own and your friends' causes.

Another thing to consider is that this recent wave of requests is likely to subside so your $30k calculation is probably a wild over estimate.
Ty Moddelmog - 7/27/2004 2:00:25 PM
Consider consulting www.charitynavigator.org. I took a class in philanthropy last summer and learned, to nobody's surprise, that not all nonprofits are equal. Some do a terrible job managing their money, spending so exorbitantly on fundraising or administrative costs that a very, very small portion of your $25 ultimately goes to the cause. A well-run organization should keep administrative and fundraising costs at around 10% of its total budget. Many wildly popular causes aren't nearly that efficient. Charitynavigator.org, baby!
lee - 7/27/2004 1:20:38 PM
It is nice to hear (or read about) people seriously considering their philanthropy. I have adopted a hybrid similar to kevin's. 1. I support in a token fashion many local institutions via memberships (which, of course, entitles me to frequent those institutions). 2. I will make token gifts to support the interests of friends if I know that they are personally involved. 3. My major gifts are limited to a few educational institutions and some organizations which have the format to effect significant long term change (since poverty is my main concern, I support Heifer International).

On a different note, I also tried to figure out how to ration volunteer time. I spent a few years sampling different organizations and modes of volunteering. I now limit my activities to either extreme. I am perfectly willing and enjoy being at the bottom of the heap as a worker bee (serving at the soup kitchen, tutoring, etc.). I am involved at a white collar or professional level at a select few groups -- where I can make a big impact. I don't need to be on planning committees for benefits and all of that stuff.

Back to the money -- I will make donations to a favorite charity as a gift or tribute but that is like stepping in bubble gum -- you are on the mailing list FOREVER and at some point the charity has spent more money trying to squeeze another dollar out of you than you gave in the first place.

Curt Rosengren - 7/26/2004 12:23:25 PM
One idea that comes to mind is to simply budget how much you are prepared to give in any given month/year. Then you can give to your friends' causes however you see fit. Once you have reached the limit, you can explain that you're already maxed out on your donation budget for that period of time.
Kevin - 7/26/2004 9:58:47 AM
About 5 years ago, my wife and I decided on that 'handful of charities' approach too. We felt we were making only a little impact in a lot of places and wanted to make a much more significant impact in just a few places. So, we designated 4 charities that would each receive major (for us) gifts.

That worked fine for a while, and then two things begin to happen:
-- You get 'gift creep,' in which (at least in our case) you start saying ok to a few of those $25 and $50 things. And it begins to spiral upward again.
-- You start to get 'hit backs,' in which the people you have asked for money for your charities rightly starting asking you about their favorites in return.

So, we have gone to a hybrid program in which we still only write the big checks to the 4 main organizations and also do smaller donations to friends. We do end up shelling out more than we had planned. But hell, it's better than buying another TV.

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