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'Tis the Season...

...For solicitation of all kinds of charities. So how do you allocate your giving, and why? Here's my view.

Start Local

While small, local charities and foundations may be harder to find, they often make better use of the money and goods. Furthermore, charity begins at home, and in your neighborhood. While giving cash to street people often can be inadvisable, many fast food places have gift cards available. Heck, even transit tokens can have value. But giving directly to a local outreach organization, instead of letting a giant organization like the Red Cross or the United way siphon administrative funds off of it, is a better way to get more done for your money.

Stay Secular

You really wouldn't want to fund a religious organization with an agenda to push a religion that you don't share, do you? While it is true that there are a few religious charities that don't preach, just do good work, they don't seem to be the most common. IMO, the ones with their hands out the most obnoxiously are the ones selling a religion. If you have to sit through a sermon to get a meal, that's not charity - that paying for an audience to a "pitch".

Fund Your Interests

Another reason to avoid the "one big pot" charities - you have little say over who gets your money. If you support family planning, give directly to Planned Parenthood. If you support feeding the hungry, give directly to Second Harvest. If you support homeless advocacy, give directly to one of the members of W.R.A.P.. If you want to help animals, support your local shelter or spay and neuter program.

Help Your Friends and Family

It's too bad that you can't take a tax credit for helping economically disadvantaged or disabled adults who aren't related to you. Instead thay want you to fund some bureaucracy to give them what the bureaucrats think they need (based on an ivory tower study by a think tank that's never needed anything.) It can be small - a lift to go get groceries, or meds, a sympathetic ear for kvetching, an outside perspective on drama, a phone call or an email to say hello, or things like that. You don't have to be rich to help others.

Pick the Neglected Charities

An example of this: During the holiday season, everybody and her brother are pitching stuff for kids - Toys for Toys, Make A Wish, yada, yada. Yet there are a lot of elderly people in nursing homes and long term care facilities whose families don't even bother to send them a card. Or adults whose families are gone or estranged. The holidays are hard on them, too. So find a shelter or a senior center, and send them a nice card with all of the rest you send out. If you are in a carolling group, pick a senior center or a stroke recovery facility instead of a chidren's hospital.

Free Stuff

No, not for you, but free or low cost stuff you can do for others: caroling, visiting, listening, phone calls, have a friend over for a meal, cards to senior centers, helping young people learn to shop frugally, giving bottled water to the homeless, saying hello to your neighbors. Be inventive. Put yourself in the other person's shoes, and think about what you can do, without breaking the bank.


Charitable needs are not present only during the holidays, so try to set yourself goals for involvement throughout the year. If you give up just one meal out a month, that adds up to a nice chunk on a yearly basis. Even if you are disabled, or retired, and have more time than money, there is stuff you can do all year 'round.

Charity is not just pledging to the United Way and forgetting about it. It is helping people on a regular basis, as a way of life, regardless of your religion. Every religion I know of has some principle of community assistance and interdependence.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC)
A quick administrivial note: The SF Bay Area-specific URL for Second Harvest is http://www.2ndharvest.net/ - secondharvest.org is the national umbrella organization, and you can eventually get here from there, but a lot of the time I spend on the phone right now is making sure people trying to enroll in local food drives are on the right web page.
Dec. 6th, 2006 11:59 pm (UTC)
I selected the national link for that, because I wanted to keep it as nationwide as possible.

I do appreciate the local link, for bay area people.
Dec. 7th, 2006 12:17 am (UTC)
I figured that might be the case, but had to stick my oar in the water. ;-)
Dec. 7th, 2006 01:44 am (UTC)
Much as I admire the idea of staying secular, a lot of shelters just wouldn't be there without a religious group backing them, and I tend to support the mission, since there are never enough beds to go around, anyway.
Dec. 7th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
Hospices also need extra funds this time of year, especially small ones in people's homes.
Dec. 7th, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC)
If your employer only gives you the option of United Way, you can look into directed donations. IOW, here's $xxx, give $yy to group A and $zz to group B.

We had that at my last employer (where it was also matched). It was a way to avoid having the money land in San Jose's United Way financial crater. (Did they ever get that mess cleaned up?)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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