|Written by "Paul Race for Family Christmas Online™|
Make Your Giving Count - from Family Christmas Online™I'm writing this in mid-November, after an election and before Thanksgiving. A few days ago, my phone was ringing off the hook with robocalls and fake surveys. Now it's ringing off the hook with calls from fake charities with compelling stories that are only that - stories. Yes, they may be tax-deductible, but any so-called charity that spends more money on their officers' salaries than they give to the people they're supposedly helping is fake in my book.
Does that mean that I should ignore every appeal for money? Or just be careful that money I'm giving in the name of a good cause is actually going where it's supposed to?
Giving to People who Need it is GoodI believe in giving. I used to work for a company that would call donating 2% of your income to local charities your "fair share." But my faith sets a much higher standard - not only support for my local church (traditionally 10% of income), but also other "offerings" to help specific legitimate needs.
Here's an irony: most rich people give a far lower percentage of their income than middle class, or even poor people. I can understand why a fellow making a million dollars a year would hesitate to give away, say, $120,000 of that. But I know folks making $35,000 a year who give $4,000 or more of that to worthy causes. And guess who misses it more?
There has been a lot of rhetoric in the last few election cycles about how poor people really deserve to be poor (even those born into abject poverty with almost no chance of improving their lot), and people born to great wealth somehow deserve that, too. It is somehow "God's plan" that those born to wealth hoard what they have and short-change their employees, customers, and communities to amass even more. It's even - apparently - "God's will" that they pay a much smaller percentage of their income in taxes than the rest of us.
What really offends me is when people who claim to love God or - more specifically - to love Jesus promote such a selfish world-view.
Technically, giving doesn't "save your soul," according to the Bible. But if you claim to have faith and have no compassion for those around you, your "faith" is a sham. I didn't say that - the Bible said that:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, New International Version)
So what about the people who spout scriptures and wear crosses, who rant against commercial businesses and their employees for not "respecting Christmas," but who do no tangible good for those in need? Don't ask, unless you really want to know what the Bible says about the ultimate destination for people whose religion is "all show and no go."
Maybe you don't share my faith. Would it help to know that the God of the Bible respects any giving that comes from the heart?
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward them for what they have done. (Proverbs 19:17)
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. (Proverbs 11:24)
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)
"And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Matt. 10:42, New American Standard Version)
". . . Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:6-7, ESV)
Maybe you don't share my faith, exactly. But most folks I know have some sense that "you reap what you sow." Or at least in the popular understanding of Karma that "what goes around comes around."
In other words, giving benefits the giver as well as the receiver. Sometimes more than it helps the receiver, to be honest.
Falling for Scammers Robs the People You Should be Helping
That said, when the Bible says "God loves a cheerful giver," that doesn't mean "God loves a stupid giver." You don't get points in any religion or culture for falling for scam artists instead of helping people with real needs. Sadly there are quite a few scam artists, and those folks are among the best manipulators in the world.
As a classic example, I recently I got a phone call that started out: "Are you concerned about the plight of [insert a deserving group of people here]" What am I supposed to say, "No I'm not?" Of course I am. That's why I give to and volunteer for organizations that I trust to help meet those needs, locally, nationally, and - in some cases - globally.
But I didn't get around to sharing that part before he was asking me for my credit card # so I could "pledge" money to his organization, which I had never heard of before. When I politely declined, he started down the guilt-trip part of his script. I was unselfish, heartless, unAmerican, unChristian, etc. I finally had to hang up on him in mid-sentence, because he wouldn't shut up.
Then I checked out his so-called charity online and discovered that 65% of the money they take in goes to pay the fundraisers' salaries. In other words, if I gave $100, $65 of that would go to him or someone like him. No wonder he was so insistent. That's in steep contrast to the charities I do support, most of which give 95% or more of what comes in to the people they try to help.
Sadly, I know many folks from the pre-internet generation, including my own father, who gave sacrificially to anyone who claimed to represent a worthy cause. When Dad passed away, my sister found that his favorite "charity" did almost nothing for anyone but the organization's president. Did God credit my father's good intentions? I believe He did. But I can hardly continue supporting that organization in good conscience today.
Follow the Money
These days any middle-schooler can get a puppy dirty and put it in a cage and take photos in bad lighting. Or scan photos of starving African children from old Mission magazines. The most heart-wrenching appeals may be the most effective but they are almost never the most legitimate.
Fortunately we have resources today to help you separate the scammers from the folks who really are doing good work for people who need it.
If you're thinking about your own charitable giving and you've been wondering what organizations really help the people they claim to, check out the organizations that check THEM out.
If a charity you're considering has a bad rating, read the details. In some cases, they really do good work, but the rating system doesn't like their administrative structure or something. On the other hand, if they're not reported at all, or most of the money they bring in just goes to pay fundraisers' salaries or whatever, you can do better.
You'll notice that none of those sites list FamilyChristmasOnline.com as a charity. For tax purposes we operate as a business, even though none of us draws a salary, and most years we "lose money" from an accounting perspective. Believe it or not it works for us. Our goal is to "pay it forward" on behalf of all the folks who have helped us enjoy and appreciate Christmas throughout our lifetimes. Operating as a business allows us to use advertising to offset some of the costs and keeps us from having to ask for money. So don't send us money. But you can send us stories, articles, special memories, favorite Christmas songs, etc. :-)
What if YOU Need Help?If you need food, clothing or shelter for your family, start with social services organizations in you community. Right now. If they can't help, they usually have an idea who can.
If you have a roof over your head, but still need help for your family, and you regularly attend a local church, temple, or synagogue, contact them. Also:
If neither of the latter two groups has a chapter in your region, your local Salvation Army may be able to suggest alternative resources.
One reason we support and volunteer for organizations like the Salvation Army in our community is that we know they are "there" for the truly deserving in your community as well.*
ConclusionSadly, the fake charity scams keep coming around because they work. But you don't have to remain vulnerable to anyone who can track down your phone number, e-mail, or home address. Just do your homework ahead of time, and decide how much you're going to give to whom. If later something else you really believe in comes up, that's fine. But then it's you "making the call," and not paid fundraisers trained to manipulate you into supporting causes you don't even believe in or organizations you know nothing about.
Far more important, by planning ahead, you can make certain that you'll be doing the most good for the most real people with the most real needs. And isn't that the point after all?
Have a great holiday season.
* Sadly, we've learned that scam websites who promise financial Christmas help but provide only advertising and lists of other web sites to ask for money have been listing us as people to write and ask for money. If you found your way here from one of these sites, you have been scammed. Our apologies, but we did not ask to have our name put on those lists. In addition so many scammers listing fake hardships contact us as a result of those lists that we have been forced to automatically delete any requests for money. Again, we help people locally and we support national organizations that help people in your community. These include:
In addition, your local church, synagogue, or mosque may be able to point you to local resources. If you are in desperate straits, your local social services agencies may also be able to help.
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