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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Charitable Giving Requests: Clear the Mailbox Clutter

By popular request, Paper Doll is repeating (with some modifications), last December's post on dealing with charitable giving requests. I invite you to give with an open heart, as well as a well-informed mind.

If you traveled over Thanksgiving week (or in recent weeks), chances are good that you returned to a mailbox as fully and robustly overstuffed as you felt on Black Friday. Even if you haven't been traveling, I'm sure you have noticed your mail carrier struggling and your daily mail piles exhibiting a growth spurt.

Sure, you're seeing more ads and coupons, inveigling you to spend your precious little green bits of paper, and perhaps you've seen greetings from those early-bird friends who address holiday cards while they watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But the biggest contribution to all that Mail Call Clutter? Requests for charitable giving!

It's easy to become overwhelmed by requests for charitable donations. Certainly, you want to help further the causes about which you're concerned (children, healthcare, the environment, animals, education, poverty...and the list goes on), but you may be troubled by multiple concerns regarding the charitable-giving process:

Limited Funds

No one individual (heck--not even Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey combined, nor the 2009 list of Forbes 400 Richest Americans) possesses the funds to solve all of the world's troubles. You may wonder if your contribution, even if it's all you can comfortably provide, has the power to make a difference.

Competing Interests
Weighing charitable-giving options against one another can paralyze you into doing nothing, letting the piles of requests (and their associated letters and "gifts" of themed return address labels) creep across the kitchen table and overtake your office desk.

Just as you couldn't take as much as you wanted from the Thanksgiving buffet because the elastic in your waistband could stretch no farther, your finances are finite and the number of charitable giving options, even just the non-profits actively seeking your help, are practically infinite. Responding to each request is no more suitable an answer than ignoring them all but letting the papers clutter your surroundings and the guilt of non-responsiveness clutter your heart and mind.

Frustration and Confusion with Repeated Requests
Months ago, when we talked about magazines, we noted that subscription departments start sending renewal requests almost immediately after you've just renewed. They count on you forgetting you've re-upped or your significant other being unaware that you've already renewed.

While non-profit organizations certainly have more lofty goals than scamming you out of your money sooner than you planned, they nonetheless present you with an onslaught of requests. If you give to Charity A in December, not only will you receive repeated requests over the ensuing months for "Special Giving Opportunities" to Charity A, but in many cases, you will receive requests from similarly-themed Charities B, C, D to double-Z because many non-profits earn revenue by selling their "lists".

So what are the solutions to counter these frustrations?

Instead of choosing between the weight of guilt or the fear of exceeding your holiday (or monthly) budget, remember that there are better alternatives to feeling pressured into sitting down and writing a check to every cause that owns a bulk mail stamp--and none involve getting a sub-prime loan, robbing street-corner Santas or letting charitable clutter creep through your home. Instead:
  • PLAN YOUR CHARITABLE GIVING BUDGET, not only for the holiday season, but for the upcoming year.
This may shock many of you who have been conditioned by the "This offer is available for a limited time only. Operators are standing by!" mentality, but non-profits are always in need of money. In fact, some receive the bulk of their donations in the Fourth Quarter and then suffer from lack of funds by the middle of the next year.

Just because you get dozens of requests for donations in December, your contributions will be no less valuable, life-saving or appreciated if sent three or six months down the line. Create and label a manila folder to collect all of the requests you receive for holiday donations, and during a quiet moment on New Year's Day or soon after, sip some hot chocolate and review the requests. (Make a note on your calendar and treat this as if it were a formal appointment with the director of each of the non-profit organizations. You'll be more inclined to keep the appointment.)

Start by picking the charities that mean the most to you. Ask yourself, "If I had only $50 (or $5, or $100...) to donate to charity, which non-profit would give me the greatest joy to help? Which would make me feel the most satisfied in my choice?"

There's no right or wrong answer. While one person might donate to help political prisoners in an impoverished nation, another might choose to support an animal shelter two blocks away. One of you heroes might choose to donate to medical research to find a cure for a disease that afflicts millions while another might give to one neighborhood family whose home burned down in a fire.

Remember: you can't give to everyone, but you can feel good about to whom you choose to give.

As you sort through the pile of requests, determine two things:

1) How much can you comfortably afford to give each month? (Don't forget any charities to whom you've already obligated yourself with pledges, such as your house of worship's building fund, your alma mater or public television/radio stations.)

2) How do you want to parcel your gifts out?

That is, do you want to give to 12 charities, and assign one to each month of the year (or six charities, every other month, or one per quarter)? If so, tuck the envelopes away in your tickler file or bill-paying center. In this way, you can keep the spirit of giving alive throughout the year without being overwhelmed or over budget.

Or, would you prefer to give to one or two particular charities all year long? In that case, look into setting up a recurring donation on the same day of the month through your online bill-paying system. (You could schedule payments via credit card, but that would end up costing the non-profit extra money in merchant account fees.)

Just because you receive address labels or a small gift does not obligate you to make a donation to a charity, just as receiving holiday card from a distant acquaintance does not obligate you add the individual to your card list. Don't let them turn advertising techniques into a free ticket on the Guilt Trip Express.

  • BUDGET CASH FOR AD HOC DONATIONS, such as when you encounter a Salvation Army bell-ringer or want to purchase a meal for a homeless person.
If you've decided you can spend $100 (for example) on charitable donations, set aside $5 or $10 in singles in a separate section of your wallet so you can make unplanned donations without breaking your budget.

  • PARTNER WITH OTHERS to achieve a charitable giving goal. For example, propose that you and your networking colleagues (or you and your Pilates class buddies), donate the monetary equivalent of one networking lunch or one post-class Jumpy Java to one specific charitable goal.
Or, if you wish to keep the spirit going all year, create a charitable giving club the same way you'd start an investment club. Instead of collecting articles about stocks and mutual funds, collect the brochures and request letters from non-profits and bring them to your group meetings. (You'll be less inclined to toss a charitable request on top of your microwave if you know a group member feels passionately about that same cause.)
Not all non-profits are created alike. Learn about the charities to which you are considering giving financial support. Find out what percentage of donations will be used for funding programs, research, etc., and what percentage goes towards advertising, paying staff, etc. To get you started, investigate potential recipient charities via:
GuideStar.org's basic level provides free access to information that lets you verify a charity's legitimacy, learn whether your prospective contribution will be tax deductible, view a non-profit's IRS Form 990, or find out more about a their programs, mission statement and financial activities. Their database is huge, with well over one million non-profits included.

The Better Business Bureau's web site for charities offers Wise Giving Reports, explains charity accountability standards and provides background information on all the non-profits in their accredited charity directory.

The American Institute of Philanthropy operates CharityWatch.org. Review their A-Z (well, A-Y, from the AARP Foundation to the Youth Development Fund) listings of hundreds of charities to learn more about their operations.
CharityNavigator.org evaluates the financial health of thousands of America's largest charities. Browse by charity name or category, and check out their blog, articles and charity ratings.

There are some people who have everything, need nothing, and for whom peace, tranquility and kindness are precious gifts. However, many people on your list will not be as thrilled with a gift given in their name as you might hope. Most of us like unwrapping something shiny, but there are special opportunities at the holidays to provide gifts that, while not in tangible form for the giftee, provide profound intangible meaning for them while providing something tangible to the third-party recipients (the hungry, the impoverished, the innocent, the needy) of your largess.

(Some of Paper Doll's favorite charities are listed right here on the Doing Well By Doing Good blogroll on the right side of the page.)

Be sure to make a notation on the request letter to show how much you sent, on what date, using what method (check, credit card, etc.). File the letter in the tax prep section of your family files until you receive an official confirmation of your donation from the non-profit.

In the meantime, feel good. You did a good deed for someone else, and you halted the charitable clutter creep.

posted on: 12/15/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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