Handout or Helping Hand?

I have to go to Petsmart later to buy dog food. Petsmart is one of those places that ALWAYS asks you to donate money to help homeless pets. The cashier doesn’t ask, it’s a little message that pops up on the payment thingy. Safeway is always asking for money, too. They seem to change their cause monthly, though. And the cashier actually has to ask you, “Would you like to give some money to ________?” I always feel guilty. I mean, I just spent $80 on dog food, why not give¬† some money to help homeless pets?

I’m almost always very hesitant to donate because I just don’t trust those organizations to hand all of the money over. It’s sort of like getting calls from the “Fraternal Order of Police” or similar organization. That’s not actually a cop calling you. It’s someone who is being paid to call and ask for your money. A big chunk of what I would give would go to the business being paid to raise funds for the FOP. That bugs me.

If I’m being honest, and maybe this sounds selfish, it bugs me that they even ask. Not that they aren’t good causes. And not that I would not want to help. I just don’t trust that the money will actually go where they say it’s going. Heck, every now and then I will even post something on Facebook or here about a particular push from one of the two Brittany rescue groups I support needing money. Because I trust them. I have seen and even benefited from the good those groups do.

Am I a bad person because I’d more readily give money to a dog rescue group than participate in Safeway’s campaign to raise money for the cause-of-the-month? Wait, don’t answer that.

I think what it all comes down to is a trust thing. I am far more likely to kick money in when there’s no middleman. I don’t donate when the volunteer firemen call my house, but I toss money into the boots held out by firemen standing in the middle of the road (that’s a rural thing).

About a month ago, I told you about Jade, one of the people I “met” online. She’s in Thailand for a year with her husband supporting The SOLD Project, an organization whose mission is “To prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programs for vulnerable children and to share their stories to empower creative, compassionate people to act.” I read Jade’s blog every day. It’s become part of my routine. Sort of like going to the office every morning and chatting with folks in the coffee room. Except it’s virtual.

I think what Jade (and others like her) is doing is very cool, but that’s not why I read her blog. She’s a fabulous writer, she takes lovely pictures, she’s got a very cute puppy, she tells interesting stories about her daily life/struggles in Thailand, etc. It really is like chatting with a co-worker. Funny, I’ve never thought about it that way. Anyhow… Jade had her blog before she got involved with SOLD and moved to Thailand. It has remained her blog, not her soapbox for SOLD. In fact, she doesn’t even talk about SOLD much. She doesn’t constantly ask for money. Heck, except for a tiny little banner on her blog, she never asks for money.

But, having seen videos, pictures, and posts from other people about SOLD, I know it’s real. Having seen the documentaries on the sex trade in Thailand, I know it’s a huge problem. HUGE.

Every now and then I wonder about SOLD, but I don’t want to be all nosy and say, “Jade, what’s going on with SOLD?” I know she’ll share an update when warranted. Besides, I can just go to the SOLD blog and see for myself.

But then today, something in the upper left-hand margin caught my eye. A tweet. (I am not on Twitter. Jade’s tweets appear in the margin of her blog.) It was that one little sentence you see framed on your left here.

My interest was piqued. I clicked.

There are a variety of different methods you can choose if you want to help. A lump-sum contribution. A monthly donation of varying amounts. Click on the framed image if you want to learn more. SOLD even has a store you can visit if you’re the type who’d rather get something tangible in return for your donation.

I’m like that sometimes. If I don’t trust a person/group completely, if they’re selling t-shirts, magnets, mugs, etc., I’ll buy something. That way I know even if the money isn’t going where they said it would go, I didn’t get ripped off completely.

At the pet expo I went to back in January, the groups asking for money got a bit overwhelming. And I was there in support of American Brittany Rescue who had a booth there seeking donations.¬† They weren’t just seeking donations, though. One of the primary reasons groups go to things like that is the visibility. You’d be surprised how many people have never heard of Brittanys, didn’t realize there are breed-specific rescue groups, etc. As I walked around, I couldn’t help but think, “Gosh, if I gave every group here in need of donations a dollar, I’d be broke.” So I had to give selectively.

I think that’s the secret. Selective giving. Be wary of handouts. You can’t just toss money at everyone who asks. You can’t help every cause no matter how noble. Make sure you know where your money going. Is the group real? Are they doing what they say they’re doing? Is it something you believe in? Are there other ways you can help?

So, tell me. Am I being horribly pessimistic not to trust stores like Petsmart and Safeway? When are you more likely to donate? Are there groups you refuse to help?

3 Replies to “Handout or Helping Hand?”

  1. Oh my goodness. I’m so touched!! And I love that this feels like a chat with a coworker! I certainly feel the same way. I’m glad my blog hasn’t turned into a SOLD soapbox. I don’t want it to become that. I feel that if it did, then when I do ask for help, my call will lose its weight. I’d rather just tell people what I see and let them decide for themselves. (Though feel free to ask me at any time what’s going on with SOLD! Get as nosy as you like!)

    (And when my birthday comes around this year in June, I’ll do again what I did last year and instead of b-day gifts, ask people to donate $31 (my age) towards SOLD. We’ll put that money towards building a fence to help make the center a bit more secure and towards getting computers & internet out there.)

    To be honest, it took me coming out here to 125% believe in SOLD. I loved what I saw: their documentary, their website, what they said when we spoke on the phone. But like you say, how do you *really* know? You do have to place your trust in an organization to know not only are they legit, but even with the best intentions are they making the best decisions they can with the money & resources?

    I think you’re very right. We can only give selectively. There’s probably as many problems as there are people. But on the other hand, just throwing money at a problem isn’t efficient either. What can money really do in teaching people not to see children as commodities to be sold, that rape is not a legitimate weapon of war, that FGM is not acceptable, no matter the culture?) It takes really understanding the problem as it has manifested itself in that community and, if there is a need for money, using the money wisely. Often times money is not the issue (or is only part of the issue) and it takes thinking about problems differently to find more creative and more effective solutions.

    I don’t think anyone should just give out willy-nilly. I think it helps to do a little research to see if an organization offers not only a mission but also a strategy you feel you can get behind. I don’t give out to many organizations. I’ve given a couple of small donations here and there, but nothing major (other than SOLD). One thing my husband and I do though, is we invest in Kiva micro-loans. We believe very strongly in finding ways to help empower people to help themselves, because sometimes all people need are a chance to start. And the beautiful thing about Kiva is that it’s not just money that goes and you never see it again. People pay it back and we put it back in the system to help out someone else. So it’s like a charitable donation that keeps on giving. We put in $50 and that same $50 goes a long way. We tend to stick to supporting people in developing countries, though we bounce around the regions (it’s actually kind of fun looking through the profiles and figuring out who is the next person or group we’ll back). Our only real rule is that we tend to support women, especially if there’s some sign the money will go beyond themselves. It may sound sexist, but we stick to women because a lot of evidence shows that when you educate or empower a man, you generally help only that one man, but when you empower a woman, it often spreads out to the community.

  2. I know what you mean, Kathy – I sometimes feel guilty when I’m not giving money to a cause, but I have selected a few organizations that I give a fixed amount to every month, and I feel I can trust them to spend it where it’s needed the most. Everyone needs to make up their own mind about which causes they want to donate to, right? (I make an exception for the firemen though – I always buy their calendar, but never actually put it up… :-))

    Jade, I’ve read about these micro-loans, and I think they are terrific!

  3. I refuse to help groups that have super high administration costs because more of the money you donate goes to the president of that group than to the people they say they support. I also refuse to help any group that goes into a corporation, gives a presentation, and essentially uses peer pressure to force you into a donation – usually monthly direct debited from your paycheck, for your convenience of course.

    Amy just told me that the new thing the American Cancer Society is doing is cold calling and telling the person on the other line that they’re not asking for a donation, they just want to sent out a kit to you. The kit is full of brochures etc that *you* mail to *your* neighbors asking *them* for the donation. . .which they are then supposed to send to you directly instead of to the ACS. Does that not seem at all weird? And creepy??

    I also agree with Jade and Annelies on the micro-loans. When I first heard about them years ago, it seemed like such a cool idea and something that would have an immediate and real impact. With some of the big not-for-profit/non-profits out there now, you just have no idea.

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