(Credit for the Law and Order-esque title belongs to
Defiantly Definitely RA’s comment from yesterday.)
(Credit for the rant below belongs solely to me…all hate mail can be sent directly to email@example.com! Happy Friday!)
So, I have this cousin. Second cousin thrice removed, actually. She’s always been into sports casually – she was on the soccer team in high school, she plays in her office’s softball league, that sort of thing. In the past few years, she’s taken up unicycling with a well-known organization that raises money to help Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. She’s really into it, and I want to be happy for her – except she’s always asking me for money. And her unicycle races are always in warm vacation spots. And she comes back with great pictures and stories about what a great time she had at the last race.
Lord knows I’m not one to knock vacations. And I’m certainly not against helping Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. I like my cousin. I’m glad she’s happy, and I’m thrilled she’s found a worthy cause she’s passionate about. So what’s the problem?
Well, first of all, she’s never expressed any prior interest in kids, reading, illiteracy, or volunteering. However, she does enjoy sports, teams, working out, and going to warm places. So, I suspect that she’s more dedicated to the actual unicycling race aspect of the organization than the fact that it is helping Kids Who Can’t Read Good. That would be fine with me, except for the fact that she barrages everyone she knows with emails asking for us to support her next
vacation race. First, it was just a mass email with a link to her personal unicycling webpage asking for donations. The webpage and email gave some statistics about illiteracy in America, details about her training, pictures of the last race she went to and a little thermometer that showed her fundraising progress. Across the top of the page, a banner proclaimed, “Anything you can give helps! This is a really great cause.”
And this is the first of many, many emails requesting financial support for her
vacation race, and as we get to the fourth or fifth round of “please donate” messages, I notice that the address line is dwindling because she’s weeding out those who’ve already donated and only targeting the delinquents.
Asking for donations? Fine. Even sending a reminder email to everyone right before the deadline for donations is fine. But specifically targeting people who’ve not donated and continuing to request contributions from them is not okay. By choosing not respond to her initial request, I’m politely saying “no thanks”. Sure, maybe I just forgot, but that’s what a reminder (ONE reminder, not weekly “reminders”) is for. I feel that continuing to request “anything I can give” is akin to coercion, and I don’t like it.
As for the repeated reminders that “it’s a really great cause!”…well, of course it is. Who would argue that Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn How to Do Other Stuff Good Too aren’t worthy of support? But there are hundreds and thousands of other causes that are every bit as worthy and deserving of my financial support, and I am perfectly capable of deciding which of these many, many causes my money will go to. I find it insulting to have the platitude “it’s a really great cause” thrown in my face time and time again, because that’s a non-issue. Of course it’s a great cause. So when someone tells me that repeatedly, I can’t help but feel like A) They think I’m too stupid to realize what’s a great cause and what isn’t, B) They think I would not donate to charities without their prodding, or C) They think their “great cause” is better than mine.
I'm sure that there are lots of people who don’t donate to charities. But that’s their prerogative. I probably don’t donate as much as I should, and I could make excuses like “I’m saving up for a wedding”, or “Max’s vet bills were really high this year”, or “Hey, how ‘bout the price of gas these days?”, but the truth is, I don’t have to make excuses. It’s my money, and I choose how to spend it. If I want to blow my paycheck at Ann Taylor and Barnes and Noble instead of helping Kids Who Can’t Read Good, it’s my conscience that will have to deal with the consequences.
I’m not trying to say that no one should try to raise money for charitable causes. And I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t value one cause more than another. What I am trying to say is that constantly being asked to give to other people’s pet projects – which logically must come at the expense of donating to my own favored causes - grates on my nerves. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and it makes me feel selfish. And I don’t think that’s fair.
Here’s a real-life example (we all realize that I don’t actually have a unicycle-racing cousin, right? I just made that up! Right out of thin air! Maybe I should write a novel!): A few weeks ago, our house phone rang, and thinking it might be Joel calling to tell me when he’d be home, I picked it up. Normally, I don’t pick up the house phone because
land lines are SO 1992 only telemarketers and wrong numbers call us at home. And often times the wrong numbers are calling collect. From the County Jail. Awesome.
But the phone rang, and stupidly I picked it up. “Hello?” I said (original, I know). There was a pause, and then I heard the telltale din of a call center in the background. “Hello, Ms. Herring?” a cheerful young woman asked. “Um, yes.” I said, bracing myself for the pitch. She proceeded to delve into her script about how she was calling on behalf of Some Cancer Charity, whose mission is to help cancer patients afford the medications they need during treatment . I cut her off as soon as I could, and told her that I wasn't interested in the politest tone I could muster.
“Well, let me just tell you a little bit about what we do,” she continued, undaunted. “Like I said, we help cancer patients and their families to afford the basic – “
When I insisted (politely) that I just wasn't interested, she hit me with this zinger:
“But Ms. Herring, how can you not be interested in helping cancer patients?”
And that’s the point where I hung up on her. I refuse to be made to feel guilty for exercising my right to chose where my money goes. Of course I want cancer patients to have the help they need during treatment! I also want Kids Who Can’t Read Good to learn how to read. I want to save every little crab in the Chesapeake Bay and I want to stop global warming and I want to help orphans in Indonesia.
I also want to be able to pay my mortgage.
I understand that every charity needs to raise funds somehow. I wish everyone had a cause that they felt so passionate about that they’d want to tell their family and friends about it. But I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for choosing to support the causes that are closest to MY heart. If my coworker wants to send around the link to her Avon site and invite anyone from the office to talk to her if they’re interested in buying something, I'm fine with that. If parents want to leave their kids’ fundraising catalogs in the break room with a sign up sheet, that’s perfectly wonderful. But when an employee barges into my office every day for a week jangling a bag of change and asking for donations (to support a very worthy cause), I feel coerced. I think there’s a difference between a passive and an aggressive collection campaign, and I think it’s a fundamental one. I’m sure that the aggressive strategy raises more money in the end, but at what cost? I feel embittered over it, and I know that I’m not the only one.
It makes me sad that I feel like a bitter charity-hating hag sometimes, and that I have enough angst and anger over this issue to fill three Word document pages, but unfortunately, that’s how it is. I’m sure that organizations employ these tactics because they work, and because they feel that raising enough money to serve their mission is important enough to warrant such aggressive strategies. But I hate it, and I’m not going to be guilted into to donating my money to any cause, no matter how “great”. Charitable giving isn't all that charitable if it's forced.
Whew. As good as it feels to get that out, I'm afraid to post this for fear of offending the great wide interweb... but I'm going to do it anyway. But in case it wasn’t obvious, let me just say this: I’m not talking about you. I’m not talking about any person or organization in particular. I’m talking about a trend that bothers me. I've thought a lot about this, and I welcome (respectful) dissenting opinions, but please know that this is not a personal attack against anybody.