© Lisa Mertins
When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor’s gift.
— Maya Angelou
Winter Solstice is less than two weeks away and, as I have in past years, my response to the holiday intensity is to create for my visitors a daily haven of calm and an oasis of peace. But peace comes from our actions. So with our Graces guiding us, I invite you to become a candle of hope and peace, by performing one daily act of kindness.
Last week, we were discussing the best practices for charitable giving. If you’re like me, your mailbox is currently filling up every day with pleas from organizations to donate by year’s end.
I bet that, also like me, you find it hard to turn away from the pleading photos of children and animals, not to mention the appalling images of disasters, pollution and war. But sadly, it seems that just because I am able to donate a little here and there, from time to time, I have triggered some kind of mailing list alert, and I now receive solicitations from dozens and dozens of groups, from the familiar to the downright bizarre.
Yes, I sent $15 to a congressional candidate that’s not even in my state a couple of years ago, because she stands for things that I care deeply about and her opponent was a vile Neo-con. But PLEASE stop calling me up now, asking for my “modest donation of $200″ or “if that’s out of your range, how about just $100?”
Have mercy! I am not the filthy rich philanthropist they seem to imagine! This year, I have already given till it hurts to Obama and my local candidates. And I give regularly to my own favorites: my area United Way, our local Genesis Home , SEVA , the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Nature Conservancy , the Rex Foundation (where, along with SEVA, the proceeds of my Deadhead cookbook go), WCPE (100% independent (not NPR!) and publicly funded classical radio) and several more.
Okay, now that I think about it, lots more!
By the way, while we’re on the subject .. I just have to wonder – how is it that so many organizations can justify the tons of paper that they mail out, in order to ask me to save the trees and forests. Many of these come with as many as six to eight pages of general information, emergency bulletins, petitions for me to sign and send back, and on and on.
Then, there’s the problem of knowing where and how your donated money will really be spent. For example, just a couple of weeks ago, a federal jury in Texas convicted a Muslim charity, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and five of its former leaders on 108 charges of financing terrorism. And I’m sure we have all heard about charities who are at best inefficient and at worst, downright fraudulent.
Before you send your checks off, unless you personally know the folks who are the organizers of the cause, take a moment to check out the organization through an independent watchdog service, such as Charity Navigator or Canada’s Charity Village. They carefully analyze the performance of these groups, particularly the ratio of funds collected to administrative costs, as well as how the money is spent. Bear in mind, however, that Charity Navigator estimates there to be over a million different organizations, and they are currently only able to keep tabs on about 5,000.
Tomorrow, I’ll have a little more to say about organized giving and why it is so important.