Charitable Guilt

We are in a charitable crisis.  We are in charity overload.

Charity overload is everywhere.  When I check out at the supermarket, I am asked on the pay screen (and by the check-out person as well) whether I want to donate a dollar to “prostate cancer.”  No, I don’t want to donate a dollar, but more to the point, I don’t want to be asked to donate a dollar and have to respond “no.”  Those of you who know me know that I am a huge advocate of philanthropy, whether it materializes in the form of volunteering, monetary donations, or any other form.  I call this “active” philanthropy because I as the giver am choosing to give my time and money without being solicited.  The checkout line is what I call “passive” philanthropy.  I wasn’t thinking about a specific cause but it was brought to my attention by virtue of me being at a certain place at a certain time.  Now, I understand that marketing strategies rely on this type of solicitation.  There’s nothing new to this approach, except that over the past few years it has kicked into high gear and has become exhausting and offensive. 

So here’s my rant:  I don’t want to donate a dollar to prostate cancer, I don’t want to buy your laundry detergent because you have a pink ribbon on it, and I don’t want to be coerced into garnering sympathy for the victims of Haiti, AIDS, and homelessness, etc.  All of these are issues are extremely important, but I have stretched my last dollar into a hundred pennies and I can’t eek out another cent.

Where do we draw the line?  It is incumbent upon each person to have a strong resolve and the ability to say no.  When I solicit for my son’s school, it is always with the proviso that I won’t be offended if you say no.  When I donate to a charity, I usually do so for reasons far too complex to explain.  After all, my family has been affected by diabetes, cancer, heart disease, autism, blood disorders, breast cancer, and a host of other afflictions.  I think they are all important, but my ability to contribute is limited and my concern does not rise to the level of competing in a 5K run, marathon, or other such event. 

Charity is personal, and now that we’ve made it so readily available for public scrutiny it has become more difficult to avoid its excesses.  I am secure in saying “no” to many well-deserving causes and well-meaning individuals, knowing that I am indeed truly charitable for giving on my own terms, my own time, and according to my own budget. 

Instead of long explanations and feeling guilty, I have empowered myself with a simple “No” or “No thank you.”  Gracefulness is the most charitable gift of all.

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One Response to Charitable Guilt

  1. Julz says:

    Ellen, love this article. As a professional fundraiser of dnors of significant capacity, I always tell them it’s OK to say ‘no.’ Even on the first phone call. When they do say no, I drop them a note thanking them for their honesty in responding to me.

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