Give to good causes, but not via telemarketers

What would charitable organizations and other non-profits do without the holiday season? Many groups bring in more donations during December than during any other month of the year. Without holiday giving, meeting basic expenses would be a challenge. If you get a mailing from a group you support, I encourage you to give what you can afford.

Responding to telephone solicitations isn’t such a good idea, as Lee Rood reported in the Sunday Des Moines Register:

The Register’s examination of more than 80 professional fundraisers serving more than 500 charities – often for little-known nonprofits but sometimes for well-known charities – also shows:

– The median percentage of proceeds that wind up with a charity is about 24 percent, according to reports to Iowa’s attorney general by fundraisers that made disclosures in 2007. Just five charities received more than 75 percent of the proceeds from fundraising campaigns.

– One fundraiser, Aria Communications, reported charging nonprofits more than the company raised last year.

– Most for-profit fundraisers do not disclose how much money is given to a charity after they take their cut for fees and expenses. Although Iowa law requires such disclosure, companies fail to report the actual costs of telemarketing or direct-mail efforts and the amounts given to the charities in about four out of five cases.

– About a half-dozen fundraising companies continue to do business in Iowa even though they have been subject to cease-and-desist orders, hefty fines and multiple court actions for breaking solicitation rules or financial disclosure laws, or for deceiving would-be donors. (See related article on this page.)

– Many of the charities that benefit from the fundraising are poorly rated by watchdog groups or give a tiny fraction to the individuals or groups that solicitors claim donations will benefit.

The whole article and related sidebar are worth reading. If you want to support a group, find the organization’s address on the web or in the phone book and mail a check. That way your full donation will go to a good cause, instead of paying mostly for telemarketer fees.

Speaking of telemarketers, a funny story appeared in the Register a few days ago:

Gov. Chet Culver told Iowa school administrators a story on Monday about an experience he had with the New York Times early in his political career.

Culver, who ran for Iowa secretary of state in 1998, said shortly after he announced his candidacy, he received a telephone call from Bob Smith with the New York Times.

Culver said he was surprised a reporter from the newspaper was calling him when he hadn’t yet done an interview with The Des Moines Register or other media outlets in the state.

Culver said he asked Smith if he could call him back, and the man said yes. The governor said he was relieved because it would give him more time to prepare for an interview. He asked Smith what he wanted to talk to him about.

“This is regarding your Sunday subscription to the New York Times,” Smith told him.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Charity Navigator website in case you want to look up a group before you donate.

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Open thread on surviving the holiday season

In my book, the holiday season is the best time of year to be Jewish. We celebrate Chanukah, but it is a minor Jewish holiday and doesn’t dominate a month of our lives. It is also not commercialized enough to drown out what we do as a family to mark the holiday.

Every year I see people feeling so much pressure to buy things and make things and decorate and create the perfect magical Christmas atmosphere, but they don’t have time to feel peaceful. At the moms’ groups people are always so stressed out.

It’s easy for me to explain to my kids that many people celebrate Christmas, while we celebrate Chanukah. I think it would be more difficult to try to teach children the true meaning of Christmas when your holiday is being used as a vehicle to push consumer spending.

Some conservatives get mad when store employees say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I don’t get the manufactured outrage about the alleged “war on Christmas.” Do they want everyone to think Christmas is all about jolly Santa and decorated trees and dancing reindeer?

This is an open thread for discussing anything you do to make the season meaningful, or at least reduce your stress level.

One friend has a ritual of going through the playroom with her kids before Christmas to pick toys to give away. No one gives away a treasured possession, but all the kids are expected to choose a few things no one plays with anymore, which can go to kids who need them.

Another friend is having a “clothing swap” party before Christmas to inspire us to finish cleaning out our closets. Women will bring clothes they don’t wear, or which don’t fit anymore. Other women can take them home if they like them. The extra clothes will go to charity after the party.

Another friend told me his family became inspired by the Hundred-Dollar Christmas idea a few years ago and now mostly exchanges hand-made or reused gifts.

Feel free also to discuss your favorite things about the holiday season or recommend your favorite holiday music. We mostly listen to Chanukah music, but I do enjoy the Klezmonauts’ Christmas album “Oy to the World”. Click the link to listen to samples of Christmas songs performed in the klezmer (“Jewish jazz”) style.  

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