It’s Been a While Since You Gave Us Money

Yeah, PBS is always the first thing I think about on Valentines Day

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’ve been a member for a very long time. Miss one deadline and …

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.

54 thoughts on “It’s Been a While Since You Gave Us Money

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  1. Its funny, but recently I’ve been writing for a client who teaches them how to use Salesforce to nonprofits so they can improve their sponsors and donor database. Well, that’s work. On a personal level, India is packed with fraud NGOs because its a budding industry here. Last year more than 4000 NGOs were shut down because of corruption charges. Most of the money that Indian NGOs gobble up come from US and Europe (are the right people listening) because Indians are too smart to be fooled by their heart-warming ads and slogans. Even begging is an industry here in India, the locals know it. Plus, the amount of taxes that a common man ends up paying sucks up just too much. From income tax, road tax, water tax, property tax, professional tax, entertainment tax, value added tax and insurance and when you’re done with taxes, you pay surcharges on those taxes. And after all this, you get nothing, poor roads, unclean water, power outages and to get things rectified you have to bribe government officials from grassroot level to the top or you need a solid reference because without it your file ain’t moving further. So, at the end of the day, a common man is virtually robbed of his own hard earned money before he can do any charity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ugh, that sounds awful Sharukh. I’ve lived in small towns where there were a small number of corrupt officials, but nothing on a scale that actually impacted your life. The marketing process that lies within/under/on top of Salesforce is a serious business. It makes me crazy sometimes and it’s comical other times. By the way, back below zero this morning, about -23c

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was so confused to write about Salesforce, because I had no idea what it is, never used it. However, the client is kind and patient enough to share his knowledge and expertise to help me create content. Honestly, I’m not good at sales and marketing because my ideologies often clash with current marketing tactics. I think Peter, Damyanti and I should come there when its summer on our end. Or you can make huge balls of ice and FedEx it to our places and we can apply it to stay cool. :)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I never, ever give over the phone, am disillusioned by Wounded Warriors, and loved your paragraph on “This Old House.” What would life be for those of us who have considered Tom, Norm and Ricard extended members of our friend circle, and I love the big guys ‘carrying the pail.’ Thanks for the chuckle on this cold morning. :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Judy. We never give over the phone either. I’ll agree to pledge, but I require the follow-up that I can verify. I remember TOH from the Bob Vila days and then the days when Tommy appeared on occasion. I still like the show, and I like Ask This Old House, since those are closer to the projects I can do. I was somewhat shocked by the article on Wounded Warriors. I guess you really have to do your homework before ponying up some cash these days. Stay warm, higher temps and (sigh) rain is coming here tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan, good read. Charities are like the man on the corner with the sign “will work for food”. You want to give to him, but you know some are out there making good “tax free” money. Some never intended “working for food” and trust you will give them money instead of work because you won’t bring them into your home. Basically, someone or some “so called” charity always ruins it for the real honest charities (if there is a such a thing).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Charlie I always remember a panhandler in Hartford in the early 80s. He worked all day and then drove home in a BMW that he parked over by Bushnell Park. I think the Courant finally did a story on him.


  4. Excellent post, Dan. We give to a number of groups, all of whom we know a lot about and how they use their/our money. I’m sad to hear what you shared about Wounded Warriors and will now be able to toss their pleas without a qualm, while keeping their free stamp for other purposes.


    Liked by 2 people

  5. I have to save my police pledge post for another time, but oh do I understand. There are charities we do and don’t do for various reasons, but nothing beats helping a person right in front of our faces.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true Joey, unless, as Charlie points out, that person is a fraud. We do what we can for neighbors and the people we find in our daily life who are in need. I was going to add a section on “…even when it’s not deductible” but this post was getting too long. I’ll come back another day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was the manager of a small, non-profit charity. My salary was a pittance but the job was rewarding and I was invested in making a difference in my community. There are lots of charities out there, small and big, who are filled with similarly honest people and doing things with integrity. But there are definitely also people making a buck out of charity, people exploiting charitable giving as an opportunity to commit scams, and a whole lot of corruption. It is because it is so necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff – even among legitimate, registered, scrutinised charities – that I rarely ever donate money impulsively, whether in response to a door knocker or phone caller. I research exactly how much of my donation is going to make a direct impact to the cause I am aiming to support.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment. It’s sad, but your approach seems to be what is necessary today. The more widely a charity advertises, the more suspect I grow of the ways they are spending my money. I’ve grown to really dislike the stores that want me to donate my change or buy a candy bar or make a donation at the counter. I’ve gotten good at just saying “no” but I hate being put on the spot and made to look like I don’t feel bad for whatever cause they’re supporting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When I was applying for grant funding, I had to provide detailed information about how much of the charity’s income was spent on staffing and promotion and overheads and how much was spent on actual provision of services. We had the balance right, I am happy to report, but that made me more aware of questioning these things with the bigger charities who do a lot of heavy promotion and who sub-contract to other companies to do fundraising initiatives.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. “I think you go into charitable work for the greater good, not the lifestyle.”

    Absolutely, positively correct, Dan. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Since I don’t have a lot of money to give to charity, I try to be careful about who I give my money to and how it’s being spent. I don’t want to pay for an organization’s lavish party.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’ve touched on a rare thing here, Dan: a topic that gets me riled up (not unusual ;P), but that I usually keep my mouth shut about (very unusual). It’s not that I have anything against donating money for a good cause. I’m all for people helping people. But as you pointed out, that “tax deductibility” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Like you say, you’re forcing the gov’t to shell out some $$, and wait a minute… where does the gov’t GET its money…? I’m sure there are people ignorant enough to believe that there’s a literal money tree growing in the basement at Fort Knox, or on Parliament Hill in Canada, but guys, come on. Gov’t money is TAX PAYER money! Yours! Mine! Your neighbour up the street’s! It’s our tax money that pays for services and the like. The gov’t gets its money from US. So that tax deductible donation? YOU’RE still the one who paid for it! And now, you’ve also forced your neighbour to help foot the bill, as he’s forced YOU to help pay for any donating he’s done.

    And there are so many scams around. A couple times a year, I get a call from “the police” asking for donations for something they’re doing. The only trouble with THAT is that the REAL police are always issuing warnings that they NEVER solicit money over the phone. I enjoy telling that to whoever was dumb enough to call me, and that always puts a swift end to the conversation.

    You have to be careful with legitimate organizations too though. Up here, there’s a group called “MADD”: Mothers Against Drunk Driving. About a month after my mom passed away, they called my dad asking for a donation. He explained that we couldn’t afford anything right then as we’d just had to pay for a funeral. But they persisted. He was in a pretty vulnerable state, and the rep on the phone finally convinced him to agree to them sending him an information brochure — just to look at. They assured him that he wasn’t committing to donate ANYthing. They would just send him some info and if he DID decide to give something, he could, but he didn’t have to. They just wanted to help spread the word about their cause.

    The packet arrived shortly after, explaining what the organization was about, etc. It got tossed in the garbage, and we thought that was that. Long story short, a few months later, we found ourselves in the middle of a battle with the collection agency that MADD had sent after us, demanding the $20 they were claiming my dad had pledged to give. We had no choice but to pay the money to get them to stop. But it completely destroyed any respect we might have had for that organization or the people running it. You have to be so careful when dealing with other people. Just because you yourself are an honest and hardworking person, that’s NO guarantee that those around you are too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We have MADD here too and I have never liked them. They are abusive when they ask for money and I don’t need that. The only people who I like less than MADD is RiverKeeper. Oh my. They show up at my door and asked me who I do give money to because I shouldn’t waste my money on organizations that are less effective that they are. “Get off my porch, off my lawn, off my driveway and out of my neighborhood!” If I didn’t already dislike MADD, I’d never give to them again for treating your dad that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I vary from year to year on who to support – last year I found out from a school teacher friend that some of her students couldn’t afford to go on a weekend science field trip and I was able to make sure they all could. (well, me and a few other friends)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dan, this was a good suggestion: PBS is a worthy place to donate. I think universities are good places, too. I like to give money to local agencies like Christmas Clearinghouse, People in Need (P.I.N.) or our local Habitat for Humanity. I was recently dismayed since my parents liked to give grand amounts to UNICEF thinking they were helping the world, I heard they don’t use much of the money for Children! The “C” is meant for children, right? :(

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s a disappointing and eye opening article in NYT! We don’t give money over the phone either, and are picky with what charities we give to since our charitable budget is limited. Most of it goes to local charities.

    What a gorgeous building to study in! I’m so sorry I never toured it or saw it while in Pittsburgh.


      1. Now you have reminded me! Some time back, a classmate of mine called Kevin was broke. So he went to borrow money from a friend of his. It was towards the end of the semester and the friend was broke too. But he sacrificed and shared what he had with Kevin. Then they went for supper. Guess what? Kevin ordered chicken!! While his friend ate vegetables!! The friend got so mad he told everyone what Kevin had done. When I heard I just laughed till I sat down.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is a reoccurring plot line in situation comedies. I guess it works because it happens. I once took a friend who had lost his job out for lunch and a few beers. Afterwards, he thanked me. I said, “we should do this again” and he said “maybe next time we can go to a little better place.” There never was a next time.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. This Christmas we received enough mailing labels to last us a hundred years. I suspect that next Christmas our stash will stretch into the new millennium.

    The only charities that I give to consistently are the Salvation Army bell wringers and those wonderful old vets selling poppies on Memorial Day. I always keep my pockets stuffed with $5 bills for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My mother gives to a lot of charities and causes, which we check with BBB’s Wise Giving Guide. What we wonder about is the ones that send her coins and even the occasional dollar bill with their contribution requests!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s always a quandary because the need is truly out there, but to make sure your contribution is being used to help that need is a whole other thing. Over the years we have tried to focus our efforts on local causes where we have involved ourselves in and know where the money is going. As I said….the need is out there!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Good information here, Dan. My husband and i believe in giving, but he researches Charity Navigator to find how much of the funds raised go to the avowed purpose and how much goes to administration and marketing. We don’t give unless 88% is used to achieve the charity’s mission. We learned the hard way.

    Liked by 1 person

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