Monday, December 8, 2008

To Give or Not to Give?

Since I brought up the subject of charitable donations in my previous post, I thought I would write a post about how to protect yourself from the wrong charities during the holidays. If you aren't cautious, the joy of giving can quickly turn into a nightmare. I believe that most charities have the right interests at heart and are probably honest with how they use our money, however some of them employ help that uses strong arm tactics to bring in the dough, which is a behavior you never want to reward. Others are flat-out frauds. Regarding the frauds, never donate money to a charity you have never heard of. Do your research to make sure it is a legitimate non-profit organization.

A while back we had a really loud, obnoxious man calling people in our community claiming to be a police officer with our local police department. I became suspicious when he got verbally aggressive with me in his effort to get me to part with my money. I also grew suspicious when I didn't hear a bunch of other telephone solicitors in the background talking on other lines. I know that the police have an annual fundraiser, but they have never asked for money over the phone beyond that. I also worked with many of the police officers in our community several years ago, and none of them would have behaved the way this man was behaving. I stood my ground and said no. Later an article came out in the newspaper that it was indeed a scam -- a couple of random drug addicts who were collecting money for their drug habits by pretending to be police officers.

Many years ago I started giving donations to a certain charity for paralyzed veterans. Back then the veterans themselves called and I could chat with them about their experiences at war fighting for our freedom. They sent me stuff through the mail about four times a year, and I usually donated about four times a year. Then the government came out with the National No Call List and a lot of telephone solicitors were going to be out of work unless they changed their business model. Those telephone solicitation companies adopted charities as their new line of work since they could no longer call anyone on the National No Call List to solicit sales. However, they could call whomever they wanted to solicit donations.

This charity I had been loyal to sold my name and phone number to one of those telephone solicitation outfits, and they began calling me sometimes multiple times a day soliciting donations for different charities. This became very disruptive for me as I work out of my home, and my job requires a tremendous amount of concentration. Something as simple as the phone ringing can jar me out of my state of mind and cause me to lose my place in my work. With my job, my test results have to be exact. If I forget what I was doing or miss an error message that flashes on screen, I have to start all over from scratch, which means several hours of work being lost.

To make matters worse, these telephone solicitors were extremely aggressive and rude. They would not take no for an answer. If you said, "This is a business. We don't take these calls. Put us on your No Call List," they would argue that our home phone is registered as a residential line and they would just keep on calling. I've never looked into what is involved in changing it to be a business line. If you hung up on them, they called right back to chew you out for hanging up on them. I once had a caller argue with me that since I donated to his charity in the past, they had every right to keep calling me regardless of me requesting to be on the No Call List. It literally took us years of speaking to supervisors on the phone and writing letters to get these companies to get them to stop calling us.

Now as a general rule, we never donate to charities that require us to divulge our phone number. We only deal with situations where we can donate anonymously. I don't even like to give out my address, because it bothers me that they waste so much paper by sending me their solicitation letters. Some charities have sent me return address labels, pads of paper, calendars, Christmas cards, and other bribes that were worth more than what I donated to them. I want to know that my money is being used for the cause, not for producing more bribes.

My mother never answers her phone anymore, because she's a big supporter of the Humane Society and other various charities. Each time I visit her, our conversations are often interrupted with the phone ringing. She waits for the answering machine to pick up with a message that explains that she screens her calls, and anyone who wishes to speak with her must identify themselves first. That message is almost always followed up with a resounding clunk and the person calling hangs up without doing so. I'm always astounded by the fact that no amount of money that you give is ever enough. The vultures just keep coming back for more.

For those reasons, my preferred method of donation is legitimate collection bins, angel trees, food drives, used item pick ups, and any type of bake sale, car wash, or craft faire fundraiser activity where I can give cash or gifts without having to divulge personal information.

Years ago I donated a lot of perfectly good, barely used and expensive items to a local thrift shop. This very rude woman started digging through my boxes right in front of me and throwing the majority of my stuff right into the dumpster. I said, "What are you doing? There's nothing wrong with that stuff!"

She answered, "We already have too much of it and no room for more."

I said, "Then give it back to me. I'll find someone who does need it."

I later went into their "thrift" store and discovered that they were charging nearly the same prices that these items would cost if they were new. No wonder they had too much of them and not enough room. Needless to say, I never donated to them again. When I have time, I just advertise a yard sale and give items away to those people who seem to need them. At one yard sale many years ago, an immigrant family piled out of this tiny, beat-up car. There were four kids and the mother looked to be about 9 months pregnant. The father could barely speak English. He pointed to a baby crib that I had in my garage.

"I could sell you that," I said. The crib had cost me $700, so I didn't want to give it away for free. My Spanish is pathetic because I haven't been practicing it. I was trying to remember how to say $200. The man asked how much, and I stupidly said, "Viente."

His eyes got really big and he grinned from ear to ear while handing me a $20 bill. "Oh no! Not twenty," I said while I fumbled around for the Spanish word for two-hundred.

I gazed at this woman who looked like she could go into labor any minute and wondered how she raised the other four children without a crib. I ended up giving the crib to that family for free. Sometimes it's the spur of the moment giving that is the most rewarding, and you don't even need an official non-profit organization to do it.


Fantastyk Voyager said...

I don't know who your "thrift" store is but I will not give to or buy from Goodwill for that very reason! Overpriced and unappreciated. They want practically new stuff to sell.

It sure makes you feel good to help others out, doesn't it? I have been on the receiving end in recent years with my husband's death and I find it very hard to accept charity. I'd rather be in the position to give, anyday.

AnnL said...

I'm with your mother. If I don't recognize the number, I don't answer the phone. I give as generously as I can to charities of my choice and I don't want to be pestered at home.

Jenn said...

Through my job I've identified a couple of very, very worthy local charities that I like to donate to. I've become friends with the organizers and some of the volunteers and I know exactly where my donations go. They take anything and use it all. Clothes, food, blankets, coats, money, etc. etc. I've met the people they help and know the difference it makes.

I can't always give a lot, but I give what I can. And if we ALL gave what we could in our own communities, even if it's a can of peas or a box of mac and cheese, it would make a HUGE difference overall to those who have even less.

Vaquerogirl said...

I do a lot of charity work around my home and only in my own community. I never give to United Way or anyone that calls my home. My Horsemen's group has a coat and can drive every Dec and we give it all to a local church that provides free clothes and food daily all year long to those that need it. This year my hubby and I have given several gift cards to food stores to families that haven't asked, but that we know need the help. WE all need help at sometime in our lives, and I want 100% of my donation to reach the person that needs it.

pleintexas said...

I went to the Salvation Army with a pick up bed full and the women that worked there had the men put everything they wanted to keep for themselves to the side. They were not even shy about it, grabbing and say "oooh, that is mine–I want it!" Since then I have found a women's shelter that I go out of my way to take my things to. They have been much more professional.

Andrea said...

You had some really crazy people call you. We hardly get any calls for donations. And I won't donate over the phone. We do the toys drives for local families. And we have the Marine Corp. fill the bus fundraiser. We do that one too.

Our church always does three or four food baskets for needy families. It always feels so good to do service for others.

Cheryl said...

You know, I had a similiar experience. I had a bag of relatively CLEAN items for the mountain thrift shop that I took up one weekend. The lady in the store said, "Hmmmpppffff! Why do YOU PEOPLE always bring in your stuff on Saturdays?" To which I responded, "Because, lady, I WORK all week!", grabbed my bag and stomped out! I haven't returned. Screw them! I mean, what kind of attitude is THAT? I also wrote 2 letters: one to the thrift shop and one to their local sponsoring organization complaining about her very UNprofessional attitude!

Shirley said...

Good post; and bless you for your charity. I usually put items in the local food bank carts at the grocery stores, and there is a certain Catholic charity I donate to. I also buy raffle tickets to support local charities, and my husband is the type who will bring a homeless person into a restaurant and buy them a meal.