Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Charity gears

While I have time off, I made a commitment to volunteer at least once per week. I must admit that twice a week would be better, but I've been taking advantage of the time to get out and exercise before the weather gets worse and scoop up some good sale prices.

The organization I've been volunteering with is a group that helps children. They have various drives during the year and the holiday one involves helping agencies with gifts. In the past, I've simply purchased the requested gift for a specific child. Last year, my friend and I went to the warehouse where we helped sort gifts and fill gaps where kids wishes weren't fulfilled. It's amazing how many unique requests can be fulfilled, but it can also be frustrating when I child asks for something rare or inappropriate.

I really like the kids (or parents) who ask for simple things such as a pair of shoes, a backpack, or a CD player. I wonder what they do with kids who ask for big items like iPods, electric guitars, and video game units. You want the kids to be happy, but you can't allow them to have unrealistic expectations. Last year, we had a six-year-old who wanted a pogo stick. Maybe it's the conservative parent in me, but there's no way I'd give such a young kid a toy like that or at least without a helmet and pads. There are also the challenges when kids ask for unique items like Bettie Boop. We had this group of four girls who clearly talked to each other before they made their requests. One girl's wish was fulfilled by someone, but the other girls' wishes, for whatever reason, weren't as lucky. The warehouse stocks many great items, but it's not like having Target and Walmart next door. We seriously debated breaking up the set of Betty Boop items so that at least three of the girls got something. You know that girl who got her wish would brag in front of the others. Keeping within the means available and doing the best possible to give kids something they want is tough.

This year, I'm on the other side of the production. I'm helping out in the office. It's a great way to give without shelling out money, and it gets me out of the house and around people for a good chunk of the day. My main job has been processing donations. Donations are recorded, processed, and acknowledged. The amounts range from $5 to over $1,000. I even happened to run across a fairly generous check sent by my neighbor. It reinforces what good people I have assumed they are. It must feel really good to write those checks.

The one important thing I've learned that people should know is about the small donations. In general, any amount of cash is appreciated. What I didn't realize is that the person who gives a $5 check ends up wasting the organization's resources because it costs more than the gift to process and acknowledge the donation. I have a friend who said she gives a few dollars to organizations each year because she feels guilty when the solicitation comes in the mail. Now that I've seen the time the office people take to process the check and the office supplies involved, it's important to advise friends to pool gifts as one check or give cash anonymously. Otherwise, each check will be processed and acknowledged which is not the best use of time.

The coolest thing this year was hearing about a birthday party where the birthday boy decided to choose a charity to sponsor. He and his classmates are 7th graders in a private school. From an online book of charities, he found this organization and sought them out because they help kids. The logo of the invitations included the charity's logo and guests were asked to donate in lieu of a gift. The group of some 25+ kids collected over $2,000. I hope that I can instill in my children a sense of empathy and appreciation for people.


mini said...

Our city does a City Christmas Tree thing where people buy toys for needy children. There is an online Amazon.com site that lists recommended toys, and looking at that list makes me angry every year. The cheapest "toys" on there are $40-50. On a grad student budget, i can't really afford $40-50 "toys" for myself, let alone another child (good rationale for not having kids in grad school). I don't know if this is a phenomenon of kids being unreasonable, or more likely, toys getting unreasonable. They're much more high-tech these days than toys when I was growing up, and I just can't afford to give these kids toys no matter how much I want to participate in the city-wide program.

And about the donation check things: a couple of years ago, I wrote a $25 check to an Animal Rescue Group. I think once you do, they give your name & address out to tons of other charitable organization. Ever since that check, I've gotten hundreds of mailing labels from every kind of charity imaginable. I've gotten tshirts, calendars, wallet calendars, check holders ... the list just goes on and on, and most of these places send multiple mailings a year. I understand needing to recruit to get money, but I'm not likely to give again b/c 1) I really don't want the mail volume, and 2) I think they completely wasted my $25 check and didn't actual really use it to help an animal.

anyway ... sorry about the long rant. I think what you're doing is really great. That is probably the best way to give: to volunteer time. Happy holidays!

teahouse said...

What a great organization! It's so personally rewarding to do charitable stuff during the holidays. It does wonders for the giver as well as the recipient.

Pandax said...

Mini: One of the helpful things these days is that there are places where you can find out what percentage of donations go directly to benefit people. The organization I'm with reports 91% which means the remainder goes to administrative costs. This can help you feel better about which charities do the most good.

Also, I'd have to say responsible charities are very good about taking you off mailing lists if you request it.