One of the constants in my life has been the request of others for me to donate money. An endless list of charities find their way to my email box asking for me to donate to a cause. Usually, via some internet magic, the requesting agencies are in line with my interests, beliefs, and passions. More recently, political entities ask for me to support candidates who promise to further the causes I believe in. Sometimes, I pass people who appear to be either homeless or hungry and ask me directly for a handout. Today, one television commercial showed me starving, mistreated dogs and another, the plight of elephants with babies in tow. Their messages tugged at my heart and my purse strings.
The quest for financial resources is endless but, since I don’t have an endless supply of “extra” cash, making decisions about what to give is a dilemma. Even after I develop a process and or guideline for who to give and how much, the question of trust arises. How do I know if these requests are legitimate and how do I know if the funds are going to the intended recipients and if they are, what percentage may be going for administrative costs?
Over the years, I’ve asked friends how they make decisions about donating. As you might guess, it varies from person to person but none have an absolute, clear-cut formula with one exception. In this case, if he’s asked, he gives. If he encounters a person who is sitting or walking on the street and they make a request for cash, he gives with no exception. He has chosen to completely accept that if they are asking, they are needy and he gives them money unconditionally. If they chose to spend it on liquor or drugs or food or clothing, he contends that is their choice. He is only responsible for responding to the act of one human asking for help, not to bother himself in the affairs of how the individual choses to use the help given. It reminds me of our conversation about labels and judgments. I might find it irresponsible to enable someone who is intoxicated to use my money to buy more alcohol so I would likely not give them money. Of course, in that case, I’ll never know whether this was a moment when this person may have chosen to use my contribution in another way to help themselves; all because I speculated that I knew better. Who is to say? In the end, if giving this person money that I didn’t need, money that wouldn’t negatively impact my life, might the feeling of giving with the hope of helping, add value to my life?
I enjoy helping others but still hesitate to give out my “hard-earned” money to strangers who may not have “worked hard” and who are “deserving” of charity. But as I grow older, I am re-examining those old beliefs and am reconsidering the idea of unconditional giving. I look forward to seeing my own reaction the next time I pass a person who asks me for money.
Giving is a Function of Trust
I’d argue that giving money or donations to others is the same as the decision to place love or trust in a relationship. In a perfect world, the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ would be limitless. In practice, there is always a part of me that wishes to hold something back — whether it’s trust or donations, is immaterial — but that’s my quirk.
However, one thing is clear to me: I won’t donate without some level of trust having been established. Hen raises the point that perhaps it doesn’t matter if the recipient uses the gift in a manner in which you approve. After all, ‘help’ is defined by the receiver. And yet… remember a few years ago, when the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society were accused of diverting $187 million dollars to lavish salaries, trips, and perks? In fact it was alleged that only 3% of the donations actually made its way toward cancer research. (NB: these groups are not affiliated with the American Cancer Society). Even in respected charities, the CEO may earn penthouse-level compensation. Charities are big business – and somehow this seems like an oxymoron to me. Ah, there’s me being distrustful!
We all feel better when we give of our resources. Sharing is an essential part of living with others. It is a recognition of another’s need and our ability to nurture those in need. However, many of us also give as an antidote to guilt. The paid advertisements Hen described certainly appeal to that motivation. Such appeals feel like manipulation and I won’t have it.
My giving formula boils down to this: I will give generously to those I know and love, even if they do not use the resources as I would. I will give regularly to community institutions that are local and I have seen their good works. I will take a chance on giving to an individual I don’t know, if a connection is made that doesn’t tingle my distrust. I will not give to a suspected liar – or to most national fundraising organizations. In other words, I mind my patch and invest in my community, trusting that the investment will help others.
The Act of Giving
Lately, I have been generously giving contributions to people on the street who ask. I figure I can afford to donate a ten-dollar bill to someone down on his or her luck. I know it could be a total
sham but I figure if by chance it is legitimate I could contribute to someone’s getting a meal or paying a bill and that would make their day and mine as well. Of course you just never know. When I was going to Vermont every weekend I used to see the guys with signs in the entrance to the shopping malls. The signs usually indicated the guy was an out of work veteran who was hungry, many times small children were holding the guy’s pant leg or something for an additional emotional tug. The Rutland Journal did a report and followed one guy and found out that he raised over $100,000 in a year’s time. When you think about it, it is hard work and probably won’t get you a pass at the Pearly Gates! Sometimes I think I often give to people out of guilt. How come I had the wherewithal to have spare cash while others can barely make it day to day?
A year ago Christmas I was especially tender for many reasons and watched the shivering puppies chained to an old fence and became a monthly “Guardian” with the SPCA. I can’t stand to see animals suffering because of human cruelty! And the next commercial was of St Jude’s Children Hospital and became a “Guardian” there as well. I chose to believe that most of my monthly contribution goes to helping animals and children but I just have to have naive faith about that! Don’t burst my bubble please.
But donating money was never a problem for me. Both my kids worked in restaurants and taught me to give hefty tips as well. However, my shortcoming is giving of my time. I have never contributed a few minutes to talk to the guy begging on the street or actually going with him and buying him a meal. The nursing homes are full of lonely people abandoned who would love to have a conversation or a hug. I realized that this year as the isolation overwhelmed me. People in these facilities live like that from year to year and not because of Covid. Perhaps it is the sadness factor that stops me. My tears come much more easily now and I’m not sure I can deal with the sadness I would see around me. I actually feel terrible admitting to this but it has always been a shortcoming of mine. I should know better, I was that outcast kid in school for several years and knew how it felt. I need to be as generous with my time as I am with money. Maybe then the Pearly Gates will open for me!