Giving is Giving, so What’s the Difference?

I just received notice that my employer’s annual charity campaign is about to gear up. Each employee is encouraged to help our fellow citizens by ponying up, and by doing so en masse at work, we help charities lessen the cost of soliciting funds. It’s a great idea in theory.

But I don’t like it.

Why do you give to charities anyway? Your dollar would go much further if you'd give the money directly to the person you're trying to help.
Why do you give to charities anyway? You’d do far more good over-tipping a low-wage worker than giving to many of the non-profits out there.

For one thing, I already give to my community every day just by showing up to work. I give up personal time. My writing, the thing I enjoy most in this world, waits for me on the back burner. My pets get whatever energy is left in me after a stressful day. But that’s not enough. Now they want my money too?

Wait, before you tell me how ridiculously selfish that sounds, consider this.

My employer will earn all sorts of goodwill for the agency by promoting the charitable contributions of its employees. Goodwill is an intangible asset that creates value for a business or agency. It’s a way to put a dollar figure on the positive feelings you have toward my employer. And who fronts the cost for creating those good feelings you have? Me and my fellow workers.

Companies and agencies play this game all the time. It’s why all those pet product start-up companies tell you they donate a portion of their profits to animal welfare charities. To be clear, what they’re really doing is charging you a little more to create a good vibe for their product. The only thing they actually do is write a check.

One of the most successful- and popular- is PetSmart Charities. PetSmart Charities does some amazing things for animal welfare while at the same time giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling for the PetSmart company.

And they do it all with your money. Pretty neat, huh?

The best part is you won’t think twice about PetSmart selling animals, or worry when you hear stories of store employees harming animals. You dismiss it as isolated, because PetSmart does so much good.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no beef with PetSmart Charities or with those that choose to give to them. I’m simply pointing out that your donation to PetSmart Charities benefits PetSmart the company.

Many so-called charities are a scam. One of the worst was used by those in charge to access child sex victims under the guise of promoting good health.
Many so-called charities are little more than a scam. One of the worst was used by those in charge to access child sex victims under the guise of promoting  good health for children.  Over half the annual donations received went to pay the executive director’s salary.

If you truly want to make a difference for animals, I encourage you to do your homework. Believe spay/neuter helps reduce the number of unwanted pets? Then donate to your local low-cost spay/neuter program. Have more grand ideas? Then check out the agency you have in mind on Charity Navigator. Alternatively, go to the group’s website and look at their financials. If they’re not posting them, that should be your first red flag.

To be sure, joining with others in donating to large non-profits gives you a louder collective voice for your cause. Just make sure you’re going in with your eyes open and you’re OK with where the money is going.

One of the best articles I’ve run across lately is Phil DeMuth’s Please Don’t Give to Charity, But if You Must… in last December’s Forbes Magazine. Don’t let the title turn you off; there’s some good info in that article. I highly recommend all charity-givers read it.

As for me, I’ll pass on the workplace charity drive. My co-workers may see me as cold and uncaring, but I don’t think where I choose to donate my money is any of my employer’s business.

28 thoughts on “Giving is Giving, so What’s the Difference?

  1. I totally support your comments above. Here’s another thing most people probably don’t know about PetsMart:

    If there’s a small rip in the *outer* packaging of a bag of dry pet food, it is opened and the contents poured into the dumpster. The same goes for boxes and bags of litter. If there is a small dent or loose label in a flat of canned food, the entire flat is thrown away, not just the “damaged” cans. Anyone caught in the dumpster attempting to salvage the food is detained and the police are called.

    I know this because I volunteered at the store’s adoption center through a local all-volunteer rescue group. We would have dearly loved to receive the perfectly good and basically undamaged goods for our animals. I wrote to the President of PetsMart and was informed of their company-wide corporate policy against donating pet food and litter to local Food Banks and charities who care for the needs of the homeless, elderly and low-income folks.

    Their excuse is that they “want to avoid law suits.” Even though you would think a company that supported local charities in this way would reap huge benefits, they turn their backs and throw away perfectly good food every day as a matter of course. This makes me sick. As long as they persist, I’ll stick to my personal policy of not contributing to their PetsMart “Charities.”

    1. That may be an agreement between PetSmart and the companies whose products they sell. Animals getting sick from contaminated pet food can cost a company lots of money.

  2. I’m your “cold and uncaring” twin at that front. many thanks for the link to forbes, I’ve read more about this kind of business and I decided to join the “Ebenezer Scrooge Club” for this kind of donations. I rather give my money for a go-fund me or for an auction what helps people &pets directly …

  3. Totally agree. My ex-employer would always fund raise for a local organization. I have my own ideas as to where my charitable interests should be and have donated both time and finances into those areas. Like you, I see no basis for anybody to tell me who I should support. What really used to (I am now retired) piss me off, was the attitude when I declined to participate but then……….. that was just total ignorance on their part, and I have had a lot of experience in dealing with people who are just plain ignorant! 🙂

    1. I am certainly not going to support an employer’s designated charity to appease the powers that be. I see lots of things set up in the office throughout the year. One was for Two Men and a Truck soliciting donations for the domestic violence shelter. Why would I let a moving company earn goodwill off my back when all I have to do is call the domestic violence shelter and offer a direct donation?

  4. You have an interesting take on the subject. I want to be sure that most — if not all — of my money is going where I think it is going when I give. I don’t always remember to check Charity Navigator, but it’s a good thing to keep it in mind when giving!

    1. It’s your money to do with as you please. I choose to do my homework before I give. But I also ask myself why I’m giving- or not giving. Usually I see selfish reasons.

    1. My personal opinion is that if you want to help others, give directly. Charities exist because we think giving directly to others promotes waste. The irony is giving directly is far less wasteful than giving to many charities.

  5. Good piece and timely. I am now retired but when I worked at one company there was always a charity drive where they expected a % of your paycheck. It wasn’t that the charities that eventually got the money weren’t good but there was this “middle” organization of paid staffers sucking off some of the money. Some of the organizations weren’t my favorite charities either. I give directly, mostly local but not all. (Who didn’t donate to animal charities during Katrina?)

  6. I agree. My employer shouldn’t benefit from my donations to charity. I prefer to give to small organizations that don’t have the money for a big charity campaign – ones tailored to my family’s interests.

    1. I think giving to others is important. I don’t think giving me a tax deduction is necessary. Besides, those tax deductions were meant to be a tax loophole for the wealthy, not for us average citizens.

  7. Safeway cashiers ask at the till if you want to donate to whatever their charity-of-the-moment is. And then at the end of the year, they have big signs up saying “Safeway donated umpteen million dollars to charity!” And I think to myself, that’s all those one and two and three dollars people donated at the till and now you have MILLIONS in tax write-offs and “goodwill.” Screw that. I give directly to my two non-profits of choice: the shelter where I got the Fluffy Dog and the kittens, and the Boreal Forest Network. Give your money as close to the ground level as possible, is my theory. It makes me mad to see how many “charities” are just middlemen making a buck off people’s generosity.

  8. You said it all. It is horrible to guilt people into giving. I feel the same about telephone solicitations. Most of that money goes to the people making the phone calls

    1. I have always donated by mail or in the little jars and that was fine. I succumb to the tragic stories and horrific pictures, many of which make me want to puke…I donate time and money to local charities (I didn’t know you could donate directly to Spay/Neuter Clinics) whenever possible..but what is pissing me off is that out of nowhere the “mail” and “internet” charities have started bombarding me with phone calls, all hours of the day and night. I try to explain that I’m already mailing checks to their charity and they get persistent, argumentative, and down right rude to the point they are reportable. I have almost stopped supporting a couple of charities I believe in simply because of the go between “telemarketers” . Why are they changing tactics at this late date? Why fix what wasn’t broken?

      1. I get to see the number of my incoming calls. If I don’t know the number, I don’t pick up the phone. if someone leaves me a message, I return it quickly if i know the person.

  9. The company I work for is coming to the end of their United Way campaign. When it first started, our CEO sent out an email declaring he “expected” 100% participation. I am big into donating to charities of MY choice. It’s not that I don’t feel that the UW is a good charity, I just want it to be one of my choosing. I have known about the charity rating and most reputable charities will share their ratings. If they don’t, maybe you should reconsider donating to them.

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