Monday, December 27, 2021

A Modest Lesson for a Better Life

There are many things you are taught by your parents that remain a part of you during your entire life. One of the best lessons my parents taught me was that no matter how bad things are, someone is worse off and you should do what you can to help. This help can be goods, money, or simply using your time to assist using the talents you have. As we head into 2022, it is time once again for me to establish my base level getting for the coming year.

When I worked for the Department of Defense, one of the extra duties I was given was to head up the annual Combined Federal Campaign for my location. If you’re not familiar with CFC a program designed to solicit monetary contributions from all federal employees for the coming year. One aspect of the program is that you, as the donor, can select specific charities you want to receive your money rather than it going to a central fund for a slate of pre-selected donees. Because of this, local charities who normally would have been left out of such a nationwide program in the past can take part simply by submitting the proper paperwork. As one who helped manage the CFC, I was part of a group that reviewed this paperwork annually to ensure that the charity met governmental regulations. One of the biggest was overhead to benefit ratio.

This ratio is very simple to understand. It is the percentage of total donations that went to cover the overhead costs of the organization versus the amount that went to the people the charity was supposed to help. I am sure we’ve all heard of the charity that spent all their money on overhead and gave zero dollars to Haitian disaster victims it was supposed to help. One of the biggest failures of understanding is that just because a charity is nonprofit does not mean it is non-salaried. In fact, many charities spend millions on their staff overhead, and covering personal expenses (housing, travel and meals) while spending very little for those who were supposed to benefit.

Armed with this experience, I became a better donor in the years since. Every December, I select three charities to give money to for the next year. Aside from checking out their overhead figures, I also contact the charities that make the first cut and ask them if it is possible for me to donate anonymously and not be placed on our mailing list. 

I will never forget a $50 donation that I made to a charity, named for an American coin denomination. I was immediately deluged with requests for additional money. I wrote them several times, asking them to remove me from the mailing list, but to no avail. Now, fifteen years later, I still get at least one solicitation from them a month. It goes directly into the shredder. I know by now they have spent far beyond the $50 I gave them originally, but rather than accepting that, there was a push to get even more money. I can’t blame them. I just don’t want to be part of it.

After I get an assurance, I set up an automatic payment which is sent every two weeks to the charities I chosen. If it any point during the year I receive mass mailings requesting more money, I write them a simple letter asking to be removed from the mailing list and reminding them of my initial contact and their assurance that I would not be added to any such mailing list. If I continue to get more solicitations, I remove them from my list of donees and split the money among the remaining charities. It may sound harsh, but if I’m sending them a donation which, instead of going to their stated aim, is being used to solicit me for more funds, I don’t want to be part of it. It’s nothing less than a self licking ice cream cone. 

I will not list the charities that I chose for 2022 here. Some would agree with the ones I chose, others might think of charities they felt were more worthy. Since I think charity is a personal decision, which should be done quietly rather than shout it from the mountaintops, I will omit my decisions and just encourage you to give to whoever you feel will do the most good.

Besides those I select to get regular donations, there is one charity that I have always donated to rather randomly throughout the year. That charity is Modest Needs. I found out about them many years ago, and I liked what they did and feel they do it most effectively.

The Modest Needs organization is there for people who need a single short time bridge because of unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances. For example, someone may have gotten behind on bills because the company they work for cutback their hours or maybe an unexpected medical expense that is ripping a hole in their budget. Modest Needs checks out the requester’s story and documents it. Then the approved case is placed online with thousands of others. You, as a donor, have a choice. You can read the individual cases and choose specific ones to donate to, or you can place the money in their general fund and allow Modest Needs to make the choice. 

What I like best about Modest Needs is getting to see what the actual need is not some sort of generality written by an advertising wonk. You will always find at least one need to which you can directly relate. Also, you can request to see the closing statement of the case after it is fulfilled. You actually get to see the change you made it happen. What a great way to feel good about what you’ve done.

For further information on how Modest Needs operates, I encourage you to check out their website. 

We live in strange times, and the need to connect with others on a personal level has never been greater. Charity is one way to connect—after all, you can always find someone who needs and will appreciate your help.

NOTE: You may have noticed that for the month of December I am once again making weekly blog entries. It is a resolution I made to get back into the writing groove and shrug off the funk of the last eighteen months. I think we all need to shake off some funk and, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, get the world back to spinning in greased grooves.


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