What is more fun than attending a gala and knowing that your favourite charity benefits? How great does it make you feel to be a member of a “100 women who care” group, and pool your money to give to the charity with the best pitch? What better way is there to teach your children compassion than to take them to a soup kitchen to serve a meal? These are just a few examples of ways in which people contribute to charity while participating in a social activity.
Charities are adept at incorporating social benefit into charitable giving because they have to be. And while volunteering should be fun, it must also make sense for the charity.
Galas, dinners, and a-thons can be a lot of fun, and can help charities raise funds. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Much of the money raised goes to overhead costs.
- The charity must reallocate resources from providing service to organizing an event.
- Charities are not in the business of entertainment and may not be particularly good at it.
From the donor perspective, the charity may be using the special event to obtain your contact information to add you to their donor lists. In the future, your giving may be based on how much you enjoyed the event, rather than your support for the charity’s mission.
Have you heard of “giving groups”? Many communities have a group of people who join together and commit to giving a certain amount of money to a charity. They select a few charities and invite them to make a pitch. The charity that wins the most votes takes the whole pot and the remainders get nothing.
While this type of charity may leave the contributors glowing with the experience of giving a large sum of money (e.g., if there are 100 members, each contributing $100, the charity that wins receives $10,000). However, there are other factors to consider.
- The charity invests significant time in creating a presentation and may end up with nothing as a result.
- The charity with the best public speaker (as opposed to the best cause) often wins the pot.
- Well known and popular causes — often the organizations that need donations the least — tend to benefit the most.
- You may end up giving your donation to a charity whose mandate you do not even necessarily support.
Group volunteering is another activity that must be carefully considered before it is carried out. There are some activities that lend themselves to a large group of volunteers, coming together one time to accomplish a task. For example, an annual spring cleanup of an area. And there are organizations that are skilled at making use of one-time and episodic volunteers. But there are also many organizations that struggle to find a place for a sudden influx of volunteers, especially during the winter holiday season.
Often, food banks and soup kitchens are used as a way to teach children to appreciate what they have. This comes at the expense of the dignity of the individuals using the service. If you wish to volunteer as a group, check that the organization has an episodic volunteer program. These organizations will typically have a great plan for organizing a group of volunteers and getting them to work quickly.
When considering episodic volunteering, ask:
- Can we do this without training and supervision?
- Is there a real, ongoing benefit to our one day of effort?
- Are there advertisements seeking people to assist with a one-day event such as a parade or community festival?
- Are there agencies that specifically recruit episodic volunteer groups?
You may have your own pet peeve about giving. Are there situations in which people give emotionally, rather than rationally? Do you have a method for choosing your charity? If so, we’d love to hear about it so that we can share it and/or provide a different framework for you to consider.
However you give, know that Canada’s safety net is well subsidized by donors and volunteers and that your contributions are integral to keeping that safety net afloat. We hope that you will choose to volunteer and give, alone or in a group, to show your support for World Humanist Day, and invite others to join in by registering your activity.