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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Guilted Into Giving?
Charity Checkmate.

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Times have changed since I learned about donation guilt during my Catholic childhood. Mom saved all she could from dad's paycheck, sometimes as much as a dollar, then sent it to a Catholic charity in the envelope they'd provided. Within days and without fail, they'd send another envelope. She'd lean the new envelope against the lamp on the small desk that sat in a corner of the dining room, so every time she sat down to write a letter or pay a bill, she saw the empty envelope just waiting to be filled. Why didn't she just throw the envelopes out? She said she couldn't stand the guilt. Why take the chance of going to hell for not giving?
2 dollar bill

If the U.S. Congress would make the kinds of budget cuts to help the country that Mom made to help the poor, America would be in pretty good shape, even if every politician had to eat spaghetti every night.

Now I'm experiencing guilt while culling the tsunami of donation requests that surge into my mailbox at this time of year. Where will my donations do the most good? I lean toward those that do not send me a gift and bill me for it later. Sure, I need a calendar or two, but not over 20. Some organizations send yet another envelope with the words "SECOND REQUEST" or "URGENT." When I see that, it scares me like maybe I didn't pay the electric bill or something, so I tear it open, only to find it's from a charity. Those sticker-return address labels aren't always accurate, and are useless. On top of that, I've received "gifts" of three 50Ę pieces, several quarters, and two actual checks. If they want my money, why are they sending me theirs?

There are organizations that allot big chunks of donations to "compensation of leaders" and "marketing" or "fundraising." I compared the salary of one famous charity's CEO (over $500,000 and a Mercedes) with another ($12,000 and a Chevy), information which helped me decide, thanks to Charity Navigator.

My criteria is elastic; it changed from human to animal causes, and this year, I'm donating to organizations that train animals to help veterans, and to small groups that work their hearts out and don't spend money on TV commercials, are staffed with volunteers, and 100% (or close) of donations go directly to the cause itself. I donate even if it isn't tax deductible, because, in most cases, I've visited them to see for myself all the good they do.

I ponder what Mom would do when a charity I've sent $25. to in the past now sends me an envelope containing printed donation request boxes starting with $1,000. Are they telling me my $25. was too little? How rude. I phoned them and was told their computers must have spewed out the wrong plea, that they have prepared letters for different donor classes. See you around, buddy. Then there are those who ask to be included in your Will. I tell them to call my kids and if it's all right with them, it's all right with me.

Desperate, I tried to end the growing volume of requests by clutching a New Orleans fetish and writing "Deceased. Return to Sender" on the envelopes. This turned out to be some bad juju. The karmic consequence was they sent more requests to my house addressed to "Resident."

While Mom's guilt encouraged her to donate money we couldn't easily afford, I've come up with a win-win antidote: the U.S.P.S. Money Order. That gets my donation to needy organizations, frees donors from the bondage of guilt; and helps the troubled U.S.Postal Service (there's a small charge, plus buying a stamp). Mail the Money Order to the charity anonymously. To compensate the charity for fees lost by selling/renting/lending our names and addresses to other charities, they'll save what they now spend on donor "gifts." And we still get a tax deduction.

Or maybe I'll just send each charity a note stating that they guilted me so badly, I couldn't sleep, and I've enclosed a check for $1.00. If I still can't sleep, I'll send more.


© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" December 10, 2016 column

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