We’ve all been there. Checking out at the grocery store with just a few items in preparation for dinner. Your mind is running through all that still lies ahead of you yet to accomplish before hitting the pillow for the night. As you are a million miles away in your head strategizing your night, the kind woman at the register asks if you would like to support such and such charity with a simple add-on dollar amount to your grocery bill. The sound of a needle drops and album scratch immediately pulls you back to reality feeling like you have been broadsided by an unassuming assailant. You just wanted to get your groceries and go home without yet another obstacle trying to separate you from your money. But in that instant, a decision to part with your money has to be made, and with spectators lined up behind you anxious for your answer as it may then set a precedence for them. You feel your pulse amp up as you try to suppress that feeling of being cornered, played… even manipulated. You are not afforded time to do your due diligence on the charity as you normally would. What is the mission of this charity? Who or what does it benefit? How much of my donation goes to the cause? How much goes to the administration and marketing of the charity? Does the grocery store get a percentage for running the drive? Does the employee receive an incentive for asking for the donation? Who gets the tax write-off? Is the grocery store matching donations? The questions pile up in your head as the beads of sweat roll down your neck. Then you try to justify it as, “Well, it’s only $5, does it really matter?” Until you stop in the grocery store two more times that week, 8 more times that month and so on and so on.
The fact of the matter is millions of dollars are collected this way every year with the winners in this game being the collecting corporations and the government. The corporations are not entitled to the the tax write-off benefit of the large “donation” but they certainly cash in on the goodwill generated from the photo ops during the presentation of that 6 by 3-foot cardboard check inferring a donation from their profits but truly representing the donations from their customers. Even harder to swallow, the government completely benefits from this form of donation because that same cumulative massive dollar amount donated is not likely going to be included in the population of respective donors’ tax returns. Right? How many people are going to keep the plethora of receipts from the grocery stores and the like over the course of the year?
Good hearted and giving individuals are left with unanswered questions, unfulfilling giving and perhaps even a defeated feeling that they have been used. As individuals, we want to feel like our efforts and our generosity can make a difference. Individuals, not unlike foundations and corporations, want to make an impact with their support. This has become a growing mandate over the last year or so. With every turn of the head, there is another relief effort or a charity forming. How do you know which charitable organizations are aligned with your belief system? How do you know which are legit in their stated mission? How do you know which of these are run efficiently? How can one achieve meaningful giving? There are resources that have recently been created to guide the philanthropic individuals, businesses and foundations toward more impactful giving. Regardless of the level of support, there are goals that can be accomplished or brought to the next phase as a result of a single contribution. It’s just a matter of seeking out that project, mission, or because that pulls at your heart strings and then “partnering” with them with a donation of your time, talent or treasure. This creates the environment for more purposeful and meaningful giving. Giving that offers you, the benefactor, a tax write-off AND the good feeling of making a difference.
by Mark Turner