Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Donations, Giving, Volunteering and Community

I am going a little off topic today but bear with me, there is a workplace mention in here as well. The topic of giving back to our community, sharing with others when we can and ensuring that when we can we help our fellow humans out is something that I find myself revisiting frequently. With the advent of Social Media the requests to help out with a cash donation, clothing or household products and your time we are now inundated with such requests multiple times every single day. It isn’t possible to meet every request and we need to sort through them all to decide which we are going to contribute to.

In one week alone I received requests for cash, goods, lottery purchase or time as follows:

Hospital Foundation- cash-via snail mail
Cancer Society – cash-via email
Cancer Fundraisers (outside the agency) – 8 requests to support various people in various fundraising events; via email, Twitter, snail mail
Heart & Stroke – cash
Lung Association-cash in the form of support for an event
Orphanage in Africa- cash plus time support for a fundraising event-via email
Big Brothers-clothing or household goods-via telephone
Lottery Ticket Purchase for a hospital foundation (different hospital) fundraiser-via snail mail
Japan Tsunami Fundraisers- 7 for cash-via Twitter, Facebook, on the street
Slave Lake Fire Fundraiser- 12 via Facebook, Twitter and email
Doctors Without Borders-cash-via email
School Fundraiser-to purchase a product as a fundraising effort for school activities
We are Just Girls-on the street (time)
Various Eco Groups-on the street- 4 requests for time
Request for cash for 2 different animal care related fundraisers; via Facebook, Twitter and email.

All that in just one week, and I did not even list the number of people on the street who simply ask for cash for themselves, the inquiry as to whether I want to donate to whatever charity the grocery store or drugstore is sponsoring conveniently at the cash register and then there is the Food bank donation boxes right at the exit from the store. A little overwhelming but this has become a fairly typical week. Even if I were to not read email, listen to voice mail or answer the phone, stay offline entirely and not open my snail mail box-if I leave home, I will be asked for money or to “take a minute to hear about” whatever organization has volunteers on the street that day. Lately several organizations have started posting 2 people on each corner at each end of a one block area where there are many shops that have a large customer base –so as you go about your daily shopping and household related errands you are asked by 8 different people to “take a minute” to listen to their pitch.
These requests also permeate the workplace: our coworkers ask us to sponsor them in runs, walks, climbs, cycles etc. in which they are fundraising. Parents bring in whatever product their child is selling as a fundraiser-wrapping paper, gift cards, chocolate covered almonds etc. The executive teams ask employees to donate to certain organizations by sponsoring the United Way payroll deduction program and offering paid time off to volunteer. In addition job seekers with little experience or who are temporarily out of work volunteer in order to gain experience and skills to show potential employers what they can do. Volunteering in many organizations has come to resemble the same process as obtaining a paid role-multiple interviews and background checks take place so you can provide your expertise and time to the organization.

It is all so convenient now-you don’t really have to make much effort to donate and then feel like you have contributed-made a difference or helped someone. Many fundraisings now include the potential to win something in return for your donation. You can volunteer your time and gain references to pass on to potential employers.

This is great –right?

How do you feel about it? How do you decide who, what, when and how much you will donate or contribute to any of these organizations or fundraiser events? Do we know how effective our donations are? How much goes to providing whatever the donation is meant to provide and how much goes to pure administration? How much of your donation ends up in the bank accounts of the marketers that set up and run the fundraising programs? Also, how much money via your tax dollars are the various levels of government giving to all these requestors?

This whole donating/contributing machine has become a rather large industry, it employs hundreds of thousands of people brings in vast amounts of cash, utilizes hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours and likely is making a significant inroad onto reducing suffering, bringing education to more people, providing basic needs to those who require some assistance and more. Yet, when you consider the sheer volume of requests for funds each and every day-do you ever wonder if your contributions are as effective as you would like them to be?

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