It’s that time of year again.
Since before Hallowe’en, US stores have been sneaking Christmas items onto their shelves. Blue and silver Hannakuh wrapping paper and red and green Christmas candies have appeared everywhere, and seasonal music has begun playing in our retail outlets and on TV commercials. Our mailboxes – electronic and snailmail – are filled with exhortations to purchase holiday gifts, and social media is full of ideas for celebrating whatever holiday(s) are part of our traditions. But they contain another kind of solicitation as well.
During the last quarter of the year, non-profit organizations of all types put on an annual push for donations. You have until the end of the year to make contributions that are tax-deductible for 2015, and they know this. The rush is on in early October to get to each of us first, in order to garner their needed pieces of the pie. The tax deadline and the season dovetail nicely together. We’re full of the spirit of giving, and many of us can receive some benefit for doing it as well.
In 2012, a group in New York had an idea for sparking charitable giving on social media, and Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) was born. Very clever really, to do it after Black Friday and Cyber Monday – its own day, not conflicting with early shopping, and focusing on charitable giving. Today celebrates the fourth Giving Tuesday, and many non-profit and for-profit organizations have jumped on the bandwagon,. Your email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media pages will be full of the logo above, which we are all encouraged to use to further giving efforts today. And so it gets easier to “do good.” Overall, not a bad thing.
When my beloved and I were in our peak earning years, our charitable giving was barely sacrificial – it was easy to do and opportunities were everywhere. We had United Way automatic withdrawals from our paychecks to our designated favorite charities. We supported some favorite local organizations and an overseas child, our children’s and grandchildren’s school and other fundraising efforts, our alma maters, and our local church. We certainly didn’t always take time to know as much as we might have about some of the organizations we supported.
Now that we have a more or less fixed income, we have to be a little more thoughtful about how we spend our charitable dollars, and that effort has been eye-opening. Of course we will continue to support the efforts of our grandchildren and the church we attend. We continue some designated giving to the schools that gave so much to us. But we’ve received mail solicitations from no fewer than thirty organizations in the past two months, and we can’t just throw money at all of them, no matter how much we appreciate their goals.
So how do we choose?
Well, to start with, just because an organization is well-known, doesn’t mean it uses its donations well. It isn’t only Wall Street that pays top dollar to executives. And there are many other inefficiencies. It is stunning to see how the dollars you send are used. Thankfully, there are some easy ways to check on this. Some links for groups that watch charitable organizations are included below. Looking at their data may change how you see a few groups, and may make you want to support others more. I guarantee there will be some surprises.
Or, if you want to make a donation for fighting a certain illness, ask your doctor which organizations are best supporting his patients. Ask your pastor or school counselor which organizations are making a difference in your community. Donate to the local food pantry and women’s shelter. There is no end to the ways you can find the charities that are meaningful to you, who will treasure your gifts and use them well.
So, although it’s easier than ever to click and give, we are working this year to find the most meaningful uses for our donations, to really make those dollars count. I’m certainly not suggesting anyone shun the Giving Tuesday movement – it has been wildly successful. I’m just suggesting that you take a moment to think about which clicks will make the most difference in your world.
So Happy Giving Tuesday – May your season be bright and may all your gifts be thoughtful!
Here are a few links to Charity Watchdog organizations: