Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Charity Fatigue

There is no shortage of organizations to choose from in spending your donation dollars during our international pandemic emergency, assuming you have some disposable income and are not yourself in need of assistance. It can be overwhelming to contemplate charitable giving for a variety of reasons beyond the infinite diversity of causes. How do we act responsibly? That is a very personal decision only you can make.

Remember the adage “charity begins at home?” Ok, sounds great, but how come you do not qualify for a tax deduction unless the family member you are providing financial aid to lives physically in your household as a “dependent?” Countless citizens in the U.S. are caregivers to their parents in one sense or another, often helping maintain the independence of their mother or father, as they should if at all possible. Apparently, our government does not respect that effort. It certainly does not reward it.

A friend who reviews government grant applications as part of her job responsibilities recently described how she was receiving applications from individuals desperate for financial aid, but who had no experience in the proper field, nor any explicit outline or plan germane to the grant itself. At least one individual was seeking funds for healthcare. Grant applications are not easily prepared, nor without strict protocol, so going to such lengths knowing the odds are stacked heavily against you is a tragically remarkable effort.

My friend’s empathetic sharing of her travail exposes the most excruciating notion to contemplate: There are clearly many needs that should already be met by governments, the private sector, or both. Increasingly, federal, state, and local jurisdictions are abdicating their responsibilities to the poor, women, and marginalized citizens we have historically referred to as minorities. This willful neglect is too often at the behest of large corporations seeking tax breaks, outright bailouts, and other subsidies to permit continued profiteering.

The situation is further aggravated by those same corporations who refuse to pay living wages to their employees, provide affordable healthcare options, family leave, and other “benefits” that amount to necessities in order to maintain a physically, mentally, and financially healthy, productive workforce.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few also results in a small number of charitable foundations receiving a disproportionately large amount of donor revenue. Bill Gates wants to end malaria. Noble cause, but how many other causes go wanting? Every celebrity guest appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s at-home episodes of The Tonight Show has their pet charity that they advocate. Not every organization is blessed with such high-profile endorsements; and when does your donation become social currency for your own popularity?

Social media fundraisers run the gamut, too, and it is likely that many of your friends will select a favorite organization for which to solicit donations. This is a wonderful opportunity, but I find myself donating randomly, by gut instinct rather than proper research for how the organization is run, what percentage of your donation reaches its target versus what goes to administrative costs, and other factors that would better inform my decision.

Beyond the motivation for generosity generated by other individuals, and the media, there exist far more reasons for “charity choice paralysis.” The more empathetic the individual, the more difficult it is to choose, the easier it is to cling to your money lest you face a personal crisis yourself. Often, those who want to help are the least likely to ask for help themselves when they truly need it. Tornado and hurricane seasons are approaching, maybe we should wait until one of those other natural disasters hits us. Wow, when did charitable giving begin to resemble gambling?

Ultimately, no one can persuade you to part with your money for any reason, nor should they try. You have freedom of choice, one of those being to refrain from making donations. As for myself, I am torn these days between giving up on humanity entirely, and donating strictly to organizations devoted to the salvation of other species; or just scrolling through GoFundMe to find worthy individuals. Maybe I will seize upon an opportunity provided by a friend brave enough to disclose their dire circumstances on Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment