Eliminate the Middle Man
By Patrick F. Cannon
As the season of giving begins, those of you who still have some dough should consider spending some of it where it might actually do some good. No doubt your regular and e-mail boxes will be full of pleas for financial help. Some might be on the up and up, but by no means all.
Instead of sending your money off to some faraway place, why not think about keeping your donations closer to home? No matter where you live, there are organizations that feed, house or clothe your neighbors in need. The more local they are, the less likely they are to have overheads that reduce the amount that actually goes to the needy.
In that regard, you should be very, very careful about sending donations to national and international charities. You may get a solicitation from some organization you think is legit, but there is a difference between the American Cancer Society, and something that sounds like it, maybe the Institute for Cancer Education, for example. There are web sites that will tell you how much of your donation actually goes to recipients rather than to fundraising and staff salaries.
Many local cultural institutions – particularly those that depend on ticket and merchandise sales – are particularly vulnerable during this persistent pandemic. For many years, I have been a volunteer at a local house museum that was forced to close; it was able to reopen on a reduced basis for a time, but has now been forced to close again. Not only has it lost much of the revenue from ticket sales to more than 70,000 visitors a year, it has lost the money they would have spent in the museum’s shop. I gave them an extra donation this year.
This particular museum did not have a large endowment fund to fall back on. I am a long time member of the Art Institute of Chicago, which does have a substantial reserve. They’ll have to be satisfied with my membership dues. In your case, there may be a non-profit theatre, music or dance non-profit that’s struggling (several in Chicago have already closed for good). If you can afford it, send them an extra donation this holiday season.
If you don’t have tons of extra money, and you’re physically capable, many organizations need extra help. You might be schlepping boxes at a local food bank, or delivering meals, or performing administrative tasks. To many organizations, volunteer labor is as necessary as cash.
Try to keep a few loose dollars in your pocket or purse. Until the pandemic stopped it, I used to go to downtown Chicago a couple of times a month to give architectural tours. I took the El, which left me off a few blocks from my destination. Invariably, there was a panhandler at the corner. I tried to have a dollar bill in my pocket to put in his cup. He always thanked me; as does the one I often see when I visit the post office. I’ve had people say that if you give money to beggars, they just use it to buy booze or drugs. Maybe some do. So what?
Finally, keep in mind that cash donations are mostly tax deductible. If you send your money to any government, they’ll take their share – and a really big share! – before they send it back. Best to give it directly! I trust my neighbors more than the government.
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon