If you haven’t grown a hard shell around your heart by this time in the year, you probably are broke or on your way to getting broke. There’s no way to keep up with all the heart-wrenching appeals for donations and keep a dime in your pocket.
All the causes are worthy, the needs great, and the stories beyond sad. So what’s a person to do? You pick and choose how much to give and to whom and how often. And then you learn to practice the difficult art of saying no — gently and apologetically at first, and then with increasing firmness.
In time, the ears get harder of hearing, envelops go unopened, and you take to thanking the inventors of Caller ID and not begrudge them the return on their investment.
Of course, this is the “giving” season, and if you are not departing from the way you were trained, you are trying to reconcile at one and the same time your budding Scrooge and truths absorbed at mother’s knee, such as:
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“We give Thee but Thine own all that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”
“Cast thy bread upon the waters.”
“Let us not grow weary in doing good.”
“So then as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone. “
The opportunity to do good, certainly, is not lacking. The trouble is, technology has opened up so many avenues for solicitations, the ceaseless flow of “opportunity” can quickly overwhelm. There’s little relief or getting away from the begging. So much tugging at the emotions does have a deadening effect. Aid workers refer to the effect as donor fatigue.
Someone explained to me once that the reason for the “united” in United Way is that way back when, a group of leaders in some forward-thinking place figured out that it was more efficient for the health and social welfare organizations in their community to band together for a single fundraising campaign and to collaborate on providing the services they each determined were essential. So they made a united appeal for funds and had good success at it. As brilliant ideas do, the concept spread.
I suspect one benefit was a community of givers that was grateful for one fundraiser instead of dozens in an endless parade, each group racking up costs to make its own pitch, forcing donors to choose among many.
Unfortunately, the notion that one can make a single donation (you gave at the office, right?) and cover several bases of real need sounds increasingly quaint now. A brief look at the number of organizations and associations drumming up funds on their own suggests the “united” way isn’t so united anymore — or perhaps never was. Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if you could donate, say, into one community health fund, and let all the cancer and heart and muscle, etc,. associations figure out how to divvy up the treasury?
The point to make here is that there is a real risk in the sheer volume of demand on generosity, especially during this season of giving. People do grow weary from an overload of appeals for help they cannot possibly fulfill — remind them as you may, how much they can take in a tax deduction for their generosity. There can be a certain amount of guilt in passing by a bell ringer or denying that extra dollar on the grocery tab or tossing out the donation form that came in the thank-you note for an earlier donation.
There is an ad running on TV featuring children with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. In it, an earnest actress tells me my money is the only thing standing between these children and certain death. I don’t disbelieve her. Or the ad about a child with a cleft palate. Or the call for food for the hungry or shelter for the abused.
Charity triage is an essential skill. You want to steel the heart, but not so hard that compassion is smothered. Before the season rises to high pitch, before the flood of appeals overwhelms, I have learned the important step to arrive at a place of peace is to settle one question: Whatever I have to share, do I spread around the money, a little bit for everyone who asks, or do I throw everything into one cause for the year?
Laura Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or be email at email@example.com