Unless you live at the South Pole, you can’t miss it. The commercials started around Halloween and charities are redoubling their efforts playing on your guilty conscience.
So far the worst holiday commercial award goes to Target and that horrible screaming lady with the blonde hair. I am not a violent person, but she makes me want to tie her up in Christmas lights (not holiday lights, seasonal lights, Xmas lights, or X-mas lights) and strangle her with her winter scarf. (just kidding)
I would say I would not stoop that low to make money, but can’t. The other day, with work terribly slow for the holidays, I found myself writing an article for an assignment I would have never touched before. While I am not hesitant to bare all here (metaphorically speaking), even I won’t say what it was about.
Annoying commercials and money woes aside, I thought this was the perfect time to share some of my insights and personal experiences on charity. After all, this is supposed to be the season of giving, even though commercials are trying to tell you it’s more about buying and absolving guilt. This was actually initially inspired by my friend Conny and her article.
When I was still gainfully employed, my family did its best to support charities. We never really questioned anything, we just wanted to be good people and pay it forward.
Well, during the last couple of years I found myself turning to sources I previously supported, looking for emergency assistance. It took me a long time to get to this point. No, I do not think anyone owes me anything and I also hesitated because I thought: “There is always someone worse off.” But, friends suggested some avenues so I tried them, among them the Salvation Army, and was told only pregnant women and those with children under 18 would qualify for aid.
I also have talked to others who have had similar issues with different organizations they have supported in the past. Once they needed services, they were turned away. The reason given was not lack of money (which would be understandable), but “that they did not qualify.”
This is all good and fine, but there seems to be a disconnect between administration and the actual people who provide the help. Every time I have contacted administrative staff and relayed my issues, they have been very sympathetic and helpful and given me the numbers to call.
It seems, however, they do not even know what their own organizations do. Either that or they are not allowed to tell you when you are not qualified. Either way, there is something not right about that. Besides, why not list the guidelines then on the websites and be upfront about it?
The same goes for United Way. I supported them before as well, but now that I have called on them for help found out that one of their main functions is to be a referral service and their staff often sends you to places you don’t qualify for. All they do is employ people who search the Internet for you, something anyone who can still go online can do.
Where does the money go? Google “obtain help from the United Way” or something like that and you’ll see. Donations that you send them simply get re-distributed to charities of THEIR choice after a lengthy bureaucratic process. That’s all very good, as without money those charities could not operate either, but all these years I thought something else, which is my fault really: I should have done my research, but I was moved by the ads that showed people suffering.
In the interest of full disclosure I have to share this website (Charity Watch) that evaluates charities to make sure the money goes where it is supposed to. However, I have become skeptical about anything that involves a highly organized effort and the website has to be run by someone and someone has to back it with money. In turn, that money has to come from somewhere, and everyone has a personal interest behind something. (Yes, this includes me with my blogs, it’s biased, but I try to create awareness by using experiences as examples and I make no money off it.)
Anyway, on this site the Salvation Army rates A- and so does United Way. I still say that the commercials they are showing (and their campaigns in general) are misleading because they show different aged adults and men, when the reality I experienced was that here they will turn you away when you are not pregnant and do not have children under 18. I am still trying to find out if that was just a local problem, but … it is the truth and in my opinion, the ads do not show the full truth. To add insult to injury, the Salvation Army actually asked me for donations via email a couple of weeks after I asked them for help.
Still, I see the concept of charity as a positive thing, but like all things, when it gets sidetracked by idiosyncrasies, in my opinion it becomes not such a good thing. All I can say—do your research before opening your wallet and besides, with the way the things are, you won’t have to look far to find someone needy, so perhaps give directly instead.
The bottom line is: If you give to an organization THEY decide where YOUR money goes, often making priorities that you as an individual would not and often working against those who still try to help themselves while trying to retain some dignity.
I realize this blog post may sound negative, but it’s the reality I have experienced. I can only hope that it’s a regional issue and that things are different elsewhere. On the other hand, they may be worse. For example, the TV show “60 Minutes” did a documentary the other night about families with children in Florida living in their cars. If children are helped first, why did these ones live in cars? Also, while I know dozens of, perhaps even more than a hundred, people who have donated I have yet to know of one who has been helped by a major organization.
I also wanted to end on a good note and include some charities I have found that do amazing work (even though it is geared towards specific groups), but you’ll have to stay tuned for that as this blog turned out too long as is.