Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Which I Boss You Around

What's the best nation on earth? DO-nation!

It's no secret that I work for a nonprofit organization. I have worked for this one for nearly 15 years, and before that I was a volunteer so I guess you could say I'm committed to the mission of this particular charity. I love what I do, and for whom I do it, and I'm very proud of not only of our reputation, service-wise, but because it's public record that nearly all the money that comes into this place goes to the program. The percentage of funds that go to payroll and fundraising is about as small as we can get away with. I'm just saying if you're looking for a place to give money, this is a good one and it makes a huge and immediate impact.

But this isn't a shill for my place of work. It's just that this time of year the spirit of giving is everywhere, not just limited to friends and family. Everyone feels compelled to do more, (and many also try to get a tax break before time is up, while they're at it). I don't have a problem with the whens and whys, the fact that people give at all is enough for me. That's not where I get all judgy. This post is for people who want to give and maybe don't know where to start, or already give but want to know how they can be most helpful. Here's a hopefully useful little guide that is admittedly colored by my many years in the business.

1) It really is all about the cha-ching-cha-ching. I have not come across a single charity that would refuse a monetary donation, or that doesn't need money above everything else. At this time of year, everyone wants to buy toys for kids, I get that, it's sexy and it hits right in the heart. And there are many charities specifically designed for this. But no matter what the organization, your best contribution is the kind that comes from your wallet. This is not cynicism, this is how it works. As far as I know, even food pantries would ideally be happier with the funds to replenish their stock than to try and use up 100 cans of asparagus before their expiration. If you insist on donating in-kind, ask the organization if they have a wish list, and stick to the items on the list. Really though, I'm not sure why people are so turned off by giving money if they're really informed about where it's going. And though I am guilty of this as the next person of waiting until the last minute, do consider making your gift before December, when the bulk of donations come in. If it is that late in the year, please be understanding that you might not get a receipt right away. If you're the kind of person who procrastinates on your gift, you're not doing your taxes in January.

2) Volunteering is great - but be realistic about your reasons. We get many, many calls here from people who want to give time, but they want to do it on their terms for their reasons, meaning, they have a picture in their heads about what it means to volunteer and when you let them in on the realities of it, the bubble is burst. I'm lucky to work with many awesome, amazing volunteers, and though every one will say that what they do here is rewarding, they've all at one time or another given their time in unglamorous, boring ways. There are some times where a volunteer can go months without seeing an actual child, or have shifts where they're taking messages nonstop, but they don't bat an eye because they're in touch with the organization's actual needs vs. some romantic vision of making a difference in a child's life through copious craft-making. Coming in with expections often makes more work for the staff, too. Just be thoughtful, is my point. If you don't want to do what the organization asks of you, you're just not a good fit. Also: if you want to volunteer on a holiday, try to find out earlier than the month before if you can help and how.

3) Be informed. By law, any charity's 990 is public record. If you want to know anything about how a nonprofit does its business, get the 990. If you don't like how they handle the funds, move along sister. See also: what I said about volunteering and giving. If you're serious about being a donor in any form, really listen to the charity's wishes. I can't stress this enough.

4) Consider a donation as a holiday gift for loved one. Most adults you know really don't need another thing at the holidays. I often make donations in people's names, and it's always received happily. I'm not talking about "Human Fund" cheapo bullshit, I'm talking about taking what you'd normally spend on that person and showing them how you used it to help someone in their name. And they don't have another figurine to dust. It's win-win! It's a great lesson for kids too, but that's a whole other entry.

After all this, you're probably wondering, do I give? What kind of asshole would I be if I didn't? Without going into uber-detail, the bulk of my donations go to this place, because it's the charity closest to my heart, but we also like to make sure we give a bit to services we think are essential: animals, elder care, GLBTQ rights, Planned Parenthood. Everything we choose has been carefully researched so that we feel confident that the money isn't going back into publicity or keeping the fundraising machine going. We eschew just about anything that sends huge bundles of perks - address labels, cards and wrapping paper, the like. Guilt-buying is the surest way to turn me off as a prospective donor.  We'll also give to any one of our friends raising money for just about any reason, but that's just good karma. The point is, we are not rich, and it's not like we give a ton, but there are many places where even $25 a year can do something. Just about anyone can give in some way.

I'm not trying to show off or be sanctimonious. I know I probably come off sounding that way, but if it helps one person help another person, then I don't care.

Now as a palate cleanser, here's an awesome holiday tune from the least charitable character this side of The Grinch:


  1. But I fuckin' hate eggnogg, seriously....

  2. How do you feel about St. Jude's? I know they always send lots of labels and things like that...I mean this seriously

  3. I honestly don't know much about St. Jude's. It's my understanding that they treat children for free, which you can't beat, and they do have quite a fundraising machine, but they're probably worth researching.

  4. We always donate to local charities and friends' causes/runs/etc, and this year started to donate to a few of the bigger organizations (like St. Judes and WWF, etc.) I can't believe the amount of mail, labels, and wrapping paper we now receive. I especially hate the ones that send you a nickle and tell you how much that would help them. Don't be sending people your freakin' nickles!! Anyway, if you have any good ones to recommend - or avoid, message me so that I can continue to be lazy and benefit from your wisdom and research. :-)