Who should receive your charity?

A wise friend of mine ignores charitable solicitations that come in the mail.  Instead he gives exceptionally large tips to waiters and waitresses, hotel room cleaners and other hard-working poor people.

He says this has the advantage that his entire gift goes to the person to whom it is intended, without anything going to some organization’s administrative overhead or fund-raising expenses.  It also respects the dignity of the person receiving the money.  They don’t have to feel like objects of charity.

My wise friend gives generously to certain kinds of beggars – not the ones who come to you with some improbable tale of woe, but those who sell pencils or knickknacks, play a musical instrument or otherwise do something in return for what they receive.

When you stop and think about it, panhandling is hard work for low pay.  It does not contribute much to society, but it is more useful and less well-compensated than, say, being a hedge fund manager.

I give to organized charities myself, but the ones I prefer are the ones who spend a minimum on overhead and fund-raising.  Here in Rochester, NY, every dollar donated to  St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, the House of Mercy and the Ciudad Hermana task force goes to doing good.  I get at most one solicitation letter a year (St. Joe’s House also sends me its newsletter) and their staffs are all either volunteers or working at poverty-level wages.

I hesitate to condemn charities for using professional fund-raisers.  It is like an arms race.  It does nobody any good, but you fear to be left behind.  But I don’t have to contribute to the arms race.  Each January I make a list of charities to which I intend to contribute for the year, and the amount, and I stick to it.  All the fund-raising letters go into the trash.

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