Monday, October 3, 2011

The philanthropy conundrum

We're getting toward the end of the year, and your mailboxes and mine are flooded with the inevitable solicitations to give to your favorite causes. If you're like most people, you give this some serious thought. How much should I spread out my donations? What charities can I help with my modest contributions? Which ones have the lowest overhead and put the greatest percentage of their dollars to actually doing some good?

It's not easy figuring all of this out. There are web sites, which try to give independent ratings to various causes, do make it a little easier to make decisions. I especially look a little harder when there's a natural disaster (the Japanese tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, etc.).

One particular thing that has begun to bother me: there has become a certain desperation among charities to sell your name and address to others (often other causes within the same space). And some charities, once you've sent some money, decide to inundate you at a much higher frequency than before, thinking that you are about to open up your checkbook again, and right away. This is sort of annoying. I understand that we're in the middle of tough times, and when people are struggling with their monthly bills, the last thing on their mind is sending money to feed the homeless. Buy a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 hungry New Yorkers, and suddenly there are a half dozen Meals on Wheels-type organizations knocking on your door.

But now, more than ever, I've begun eliminating those causes that simply won't let you alone after that first donation. And if they're on the phone, forget it. You know who you are: various police and fireman's benevolent groups may be the worst offenders.

I'm not immune to the fact that the solicitors are often third-party hires to drum up business, and this further complicates things (as they need to make a living, too).

For now, I'll mention a couple of outfits that I particularly like. Doctors Without Borders and the Doe Fund. Both outfits do not make extensive appeals, and the Doe Fund's executive director manages to scrawl a nice hand-written thank you on the form letter every season.

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