Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

Three bags full…..that’s what we’ve been asked for — bags of food, clothing, and money. To paraphrase lyrics from Smash Mouth’s “All Star” — the requests start coming, and they don’t stop coming.

We cannot give to everything, so we have to choose. In the spirit of blogs that share the path to happiness, how to be a better (or at least different) parent, or even how to write a blog, this blog is about how and why this family makes choices about charitable giving and volunteering. Not that we are especially important donors, but that thinking about the process, and sharing some of those thoughts, will have benefits for us and maybe for you.

First some background. Our five-person household is one of the two-thirds of U.S. households that give to charity in a year. Some of us are also in the roughly one-third of individuals in the U.S. who volunteer in a year. Plus, more than ten years ago, my extended family decided to stop exchanging holiday gifts and give money to charities instead. As further incentive to reflect on our giving, both my spouse and I are affiliated with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Perhaps more than many, we discuss the how and why of charitable giving at dinner, during “car time” with the kids, and even long-distance with our parents and siblings.

Now, back to those bags. This past week, after sorting the many appeals received, it took no effort to decide to clean the pantry and fill the plastic grocery bag for the Letter Carriers’food drive and sort through a closet to pack a parcel of clothing for Goodwill. These “gifts” cost us only a few minutes of time. These donations are also consistent with our on-going commitments to local organizations that meet basic needs.

The tough choice comes with the request to give money for homeless services provided by Volunteers of America. The appeal is clever, with the letter printed on a lunch-size paper sack folded as a “self-mailer.” The bag itself contains some printed information and a gift form and envelope. I like clever, so I am tempted to give to reward creativity.

However, this charity would be a new one for us—and that doesn’t work just now, as my business just begins. Further, except for tossing a little into Salvation Army red kettles in December, I feel like a traitor supporting homelessness services other than the Homeless Initiative Program, where I worked in the late 1990s.

We also very seldom respond to direct mail (or email) or telephone appeals. Even a clever appeal asks for an emotional response, rather than an intentional commitment to an organization whose work we’ve checked out (or know first-hand).

So, we gave two bags full, not three, to our household’s priorities for the most fundamental of needs on Maslow’s hierarchy: food and shelter. For now, we’ve set aside about a dozen other appeals received to consider someday soon. And the requests keep coming--there were six more in today's mail.


Kirsten Bullock, CFRE said...

Thanks for sharing your giving journey with us! Looking forward to learning more about your adventure. Here's also to hoping that your blog will also inspire others to give intentionally!

NPOwriter said...

Thank you, Kirsten, for reading and for following.

Heidi said...

So excited about your blog. Can't wait to read more.

Wendy Smith said...

Congrats on your family's commitment to doing good Melissa!
Wendy Smith, author
Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World

Jessica Journey said...

Hi, Meliisa. I like your new blog and its interesting twist on giving!

I often wonder, too, if I think more intentionally about my giving and volunteering than the typical person because of my professional experience in the nonprofit sector.