Give it to me straight
I don’t know that my parents ever gave anything to charity other than to Saint Edmund’s Episcopal Church. I think we bought seeds and Christmas cards that more or less benefited at least the child who was selling them on behalf of their school or scout troop. Sometimes I was the child. Outright donations were pretty much limited to the March of Dimes once a year.
I didn’t give money to organized charities until recently, so I could never deduct anything. Instead, I gave money to people I saw on the street, or rather who saw me on the street. Panhandlers tended to spot me at a distance, the better to select at leisure the approach likely to be the most profitable.
When I lived in Chicago guys would hang around some stores and cadge change from the presumably moneyed shoppers on their way out. The “I need food for my baby” number always got me, as did “I need bus fare to get to a job interview.” I especially liked the implied multiplier effect of the latter, with my donation perhaps resulting in his getting on his feet and contributing to the tax base. A thrift-store clerk once accepted my last five bucks for a $7 sport coat because I needed it for a job interview—successful, by the way—charity I sincerely appreciated.
After the first recycled story, even I wised up. Thereafter I asked for the truth, no matter how mundane. If he wanted a bottle of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose he had only to say so, but no more needing a bus ticket to Milwaukee where his cousin will help him get a j-o-b. Hunger worked, too.
The last few years I’ve begun giving more to organizations of which I approve, often online, sometimes straight from my bank every month. I’m still leery of organizations, though, because even the best of them waste money. They’re just a bunch of people trying to accomplish something, and are no more likely to be efficient and effective than anybody else. A contribution I made some months ago online has resulted in my getting regular e-mail updates, which I can stand, and maybe monthly snail mail with four-color card stock, a sticker and a letter, all of which are wasted on me.
Whatever the printed materials cost to produce and mail was too much, especially the slick thank-you card and the default general-info piece they apparently put in everything. At least they’re trying.