On Being a Responsible Donor

donateOne day, I was walking by the Union Square in New York, when a young man approached me with a tablet in his hand. He said he worked for a nonprofit organization and wanted to share his story. Because I was not in a hurry, I stopped and listened.

Around us were several other young people, similar to his age, all engaging in conversation with passerby about their work. He explained to me about the organization’s work, why the cause they support is so important, and how much he loves working for them. In fact, because they care about their work so much that they step out of the office sometimes and talk to other people to raise awareness, he said.

I truly enjoyed our conversation and told him that I, too, worked for nonprofits. So when the time came for him to  do the “ask,” and I said no, he seemed to be very surprised. 

I have always had doubts about how effective those soliciting activities on the street are. Yes, it raises awareness – in fact, I did look up their website after I reached home, to find out more about them. But do I feel comfortable giving my donation on the spot? Most likely not.

Because to me, donation is not just giving money. I hope it to be the beginning of a relationship and support. So for me to feel committed, I need to ask many questions and do some research, that are not possible in a 5-minute conversation. I need to know what specific approach they take in support of their case, and why. I need to know how their funds are distributed and how much their executives make. I need to know what others say about the organization – positive and negative. I want to know how people working there genuinely feel.

In the cause of the organization I mentioned above, upon seeing the website, I did not feel compelled to give. It did not help when I saw that their CEO was one of the most highly paid nonprofit executives I’ve seen.

That is why I mostly support the nonprofits I have either personally worked for or volunteered with, and very little of my money goes to large organizations I do not have personal experience with. I want to be an engaged donor – not someone who feels good about clicking the “donate” button and forget about it, but continues to serve in the community as a trustee that gives both time and money.

Trust me, I have given money to those canvasing on the street before. But it was not because I felt compelled to support them; it was because I felt uncomfortable saying no. I do not like the feeling.

I once volunteered for a very well-known organization that many people have probably donated their money to at least once in their life. Though they do a lot of good work, the department I volunteered for was utter chaos. I saw a lot of turnover in a very short time I was there. They relied heavily on volunteers that were not always reliable. Reporting was not taken seriously, and a lot of essential data were missing. After volunteering for them, I decided not to give any donation for the particular organization. Instead, I continue to search for others who do similar work but are more accountable.

So I ask my friends that visit this blog: what are the nonprofits you support, and why?

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