As I look in my “stupid things charities do” folder, I’m at a loss as to where to start this post. I do know where to end though. I’m going to end on a good note, so either skip down to the bottom or hang in there and commiserate for a few hundred words.
One of our local PBS stations, it doesn’t matter which one, because they all do this, loves to send me email. 46 distinct emails between June 2015 and last Thursday, including seven during the last week of the year, reminding me that a donation is tax-deductible.
Here’s the thing about the tax-deductibility of donations: It’s not a way to save money. It’s a way to force the government to give money to a cause they don’t support or support well enough.
Let’s say you’re in a 20% tax bracket. If you give $100 to your local PBS station, you are giving them $80 and you are forcing Uncle Sam to give them $20. I’m sorry for my non-US readers, I don’t know how this works in your country, but I’m sure people ask you for money. I digress. If your (you in the US) goal was to be in a better position, relative to your upcoming tax bill, you should keep the whole $100. That would allow you to pay your taxes on $500 worth of income.
If you like the work a charity does, and if you can afford to support them, then you should consider giving them some money. But – be – careful! ‘Cuz not every charity uses the money you give them for the things they say they do.
Just recently, The New York Times ran a story on how The Wounded Warrior Project “spends lavishly on itself” – something I don’t want anyone doing with my money. When I read that, I had an Ebenezer Scrooge moment:
“I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry…”
I can afford to help the people Ebenezer disdained, but I’m not so keen on helping the people collecting money to live lavishly. I think you go into charitable work for the greater good, not the lifestyle.
I’m always very skeptical when people ask me for donations. OK, there was that scam artist in our parking lot who said he was lost and broke and out of gas. Yes, I gave him a few bucks. But for donations that require a credit card, I’m skeptical.
We used to get calls from the Association of Police Chiefs (AoPC), allegedly raising money for our town’s police department benefit fund. So, one “charity” raising money for another charity. I put the first charity in quotes, because the AoPC gets zero out of five stars in the charity rating guide. The Wounded Warrior Project got four stars, and the The New York Times ran an article about them. Zero stars? What the? The last time AoPC called our house, we had this little conversation:
“…if I give you $50, how much will my department get?“
“It varies by town, there’s no way to say.”
“Then I’ll give directly to my town.“
“Your local police department specifically asked us to conduct fundraising on their behalf.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure they’ll take a check from me too.”
Our local police department had asked the AoPC to conduct fundraising on their behalf, but after a few articles about how the AoPC kept upwards of 80% of the funds raised, they stopped. And, for the record, the police will take money from ordinary citizens. So will the fire department.
As for PBS, we give to PBS. We don’t always give. We might skip a year here and there or we might stretch a year out to 16 months, but we give. I used to feel a little guilty about watching “This Old House” if we hadn’t given, but now that they’ve added six to eight minutes
of commercials to “acknowledge our supporters”, I don’t feel so bad. Stanley, Delta, Home Depot and GMC can carry the pail for me for a few months.
I promised that I’d end with a good story. First, just peek at the image from WVU. I’ve been a member of the Alumni Association forever. I was late paying my annual fee last August and I got that email. Seriously? Puzzled?
Last week, I got a call from the alumni association of the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh. Skeptical me, I wasn’t willing to give a credit card over phone. It could be a scam. The area code was 412, but that can be faked. Anyway, the woman said she didn’t want a credit card number, she just wanted to send me a pledge form.
After I agreed, the point when fundraisers drop you like a hot rock, she started a conversation. She knew that, based on year I graduated, I had attended classes in Cathedral of Learning. She pointed out that if I visited during homecoming, I could tour the new School of Business, and enjoy food and drinks for a “couple ahrs” in the Cathedral Commons. “Ahr” instead of “hour” is a Pittsburgh thing, just like the missing “of” – she was legit.