What Are Your Guidelines for Giving?

This completely unrelated photo was sent to me by my parents as I was writing this blog entry. They took this while on their evening walk. Yes, it is what you think it is.

I’ve had something on my mind all weekend. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it, so I’m going to share it with you. I’m open to any thoughts you may have.

A person who barely knows me called me on Friday and asked to schedule a time to chat. They said that they wanted to explain the mission of a charity they work for to see if I want to support them in that journey.

My immediate reaction was, “Okay, I’ll give you $50.” I don’t really know why, but I think part of it is that time is more valuable to me than money, so if I just put up some money, I wouldn’t have to spend me time being solicited.

But the person said that they’d rather sit down and chat first. Of course, I could have declined, but for various reasons that I won’t explain here, I thought it was an example of good ministry (I work for a church) to let this person talk to me about their mission (even though I already know about their mission).

So I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what happened on the phone and what I will say when I meet with this person in July.

I should note here that I have a few policies for charitable giving, but I think I need another. The policies I have are:

  1. I give money to my high school and my university. Not much, but every year I increase my giving by a little bit.
  2. I give to my church. Again, not much, because I work there.
  3. I give to people I know (friends, acquaintances, and family) if they ask for money for a cause that they are actively doing something about. I give small amounts to people doing something that doesn’t have anything to do with the solution (i.e., someone participating in a walk for the cure), and much more money for a someone who takes time to be a part of the solution (i.e., someone who has decided to be a big brother or big sister to a child in need or someone actually going to a foreign country to help people).

I feel good about those rules. The trouble is, I work for an institution that asks some people with absolutely no ties to us for money from time to time. It’s pretty important that we continue to expand our circle of giving. So why shouldn’t I practice what I preach?

Thus I’m a bit lost. The truth is, I don’t want to give to this person because (a) I don’t know them and (b) I don’t care all that much for their organization’s mission. Maybe that should be my fourth rule. If you don’t fit into the first three categories, I need to be pretty darn passionate about your mission for me to give.

What do you think? What are your guidelines for giving?

19 thoughts on “What Are Your Guidelines for Giving?”

  1. Ok, this may sound a bit cold, but I typically don’t give according to a policy. Most every one is on a case-by-case basis with very little taken into consideration of what I did with this same charity last time or with a similar charity. I hear a lot of people say, “No, I don’t give X because Y.” where I’ll just say, “No (or yes), this time.”

    • I can see that…I mean, I definitely listen to my gut too. But I started thinking, if I say no to this person, what reason am I going to give? What’s at the heart of me not wanting to give to this person?

      Also, a policy could help me avoid my quick reaction of, “Here, just take some money and don’t bother me any more.”

  2. I very rarely give money to adults. I try to say “no” politely because there are very few causes I feel passionate about. I have given, on occasion, to those causes though.

    I do have a soft spot for giving to children who have had a rough upbringing, are working to improve their future, and have good manners. Every year someone drops off some inner city youth in my neighborhood and they walk around selling obscenely overpriced candy. I can’t say no to them though. I’m proud of them for recognizing the need to grow their own futures and for learning how to properly address someone. I give them money every time.

    • I like the idea of people working for their keep too. I’d wonder a little bit about where that money is going, but I guess that’s up to those kids (or their keepers).

  3. I say just be honest with the person and say that while you enjoy helping charities/organizations/causes/etc, you don’t feel particularly passionate about this one. You could explain that you already give to other charities and are glad to do so, but at this time you are just not ready to support this cause. I give to charities and organizations, and participate in the stated “people doing something that doesn’t have anything to do with the solution (i.e., someone participating in a walk for the cure)”, but everyone has a limit. As awful as it sounds, you can’t help and support every single thing that comes along, just say no. I’ll tell them no for you if you’d like, I’m good at turning people down.

    • I think you’re right that you can’t help every cause (I don’t think that’s awful at all)…it’s just the way it is. Even the richest people in the world pick and choose their charities based on their passions.

      I think that will end up being my answer to this person: I’m glad they’re spending their time on that cause, but it’s not a passion I share with them.

  4. When someone insists on meeting me in person for ‘their cause’ …. all I can think of it some multilevel marketing company with a twist. Jay and I have gotten sucked in too many times because of our soft heart, and they always deny the multilevel marketing idea but when they come and ‘share’ it has always been a multilevel marketing twist company.

    Even when a request for charity comes via a phone call, I always say that I have my established charities for the year, but I will take their request and consider it for the following year. I find the requester won’t even leave any information when I say that. But if they do send me information I will seriously consider it then following year.

    But when someone wants ‘to come and talk in person’… a bigger red flag comes up and I believe saying ‘no’ ahead of time is actually more compassionate than leading them on.

    • I definitely hear that about the red flags…I know in this instance that it’s not a multilevel marketing scheme, but I certainly would have no problem telling that person no.

      I like the idea of telling people you’ll consider the request the following year. That’s a really good way of doing it.

  5. Kudos Jamey – both for giving charity (something that most people our age don’t do) and for writing a phenomenal blog post (my favorite one so far).

    Like your other readers, I do not respond to requests for money over the phone but instead ask for something in writing. Solicitations are then stored on my desk and three to four times a year I go through and give to a handful. Interestingly, I also have a “runner up” category – groups that don’t get thrown away in that round, but also don’t get a check. In the situation you describe in your blog, I would be happy to meet with the person and talk about other ways I can help them – connections I might have, ideas for their organization, or ways I could give my time – but I would never give money following a meeting. General rules of thumb I use to decide who to give to include:
    1. If you wasted a lot of money sending me 20 requests, I probably won’t give
    2. If you require the individuals helped by your organization to sit through a religious service or some sort of sermon/preaching in order to receive your help I definitely don’t give
    3. I prefer to support direct aid such as a food pantry rather than lobbying efforts
    4. I give preference to local over national
    5. I give to organizations that I benefit from such as NPR or the Jewish Light (this includes my alma maters)
    Two other rules I follow are that I would always prefer to give my time than my money and I never give cash.

    There are also three other ways I give charity. First, 10% of my weekly grocery bill is always something for the food pantry. I even clip coupons for foods I don’t eat but might want to get for the food pantry. Second, I always give to causes that family members (and close friends) ask me to contribute to, even if I don’t think the cause is particularly important because I know they would do the same for me. Finally, once a year (on the Jewish holiday of Purim) we are commanded to give charity ON THAT DAY. I fulfill this obligation by walking around the central west end until someone stops and asks me for money. I then say I can’t give them money (see cash rule above) but I would be happy to buy them a meal. They almost always say yes, and I do.

    • Ariel–Thanks for your kind and insightful comments. It’s interesting to me to hear other people’s policies (and lack thereof) for charitable giving. Both you and my mother echoed the idea of not making any decisions on the spot, which I like.

      I also really like how you offer food to beggars instead of money. I’m surprised you have such a high success rate for that. I’ve tried it, and I rarely get a positive answer. I really, really don’t like people who beg at stoplights. It’s awkward and intrusive, and I feel trapped in those situations.

      • A good friend of mine routinely buys meals for homeless individuals, but also goes one step further. He sits with them and listens to their story while they eat and tries to offer advice or at least a friendly ear.

  6. Turtles must have pretty long penises relative to their body size, if you think about it. Look at where the top turtle is positioned. Way to go, turtles.

    • That is interesting. I love the idea, actually. Not so much that it has to be religious, but that people are doing something to get the food.


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