Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mindful Giving at the Holidays

I am a philanthropist (and a philogynist! :) I not only work in the nonprofit sector; I also regularly give what I can to a few select nonprofits and I volunteer my time to others. I think there is little more important than remembering to contribute back to your community whenever you are able.

In addition to believing in philanthropy in general, I also believe that it is critical that people be truly mindful about their giving choices. It is not enough to simply give...we, as feminists and progressives, have a duty to give to organizations and charities which support our core values.

That's why I'm asking that you not donate to The Salvation Army this winter.

The Salvation Army has cornered the market on convenient giving at the holidays. Who amongst us hasn't dropped our change or a few bucks in their red buckets as we enter and exit stores this time of year? The person ringing the bell is always so nice and the bucket is right there. I remember up through 2010, I was more than happy to empty my change into the bucket at every chance. It was easy and it felt nice to put my random coins toward what I assumed was a good purpose.

However, in the past few years, I've become aware that The Salvation Army does not share my values. I  recently saw a post shared on Tumblr which nicely summarized The Salvation Army's conservative agenda:
They are so opposed to LGBT rights that they have lobbied multiple times for exemptions from Federal and Local anti-discrimination laws, and threatened to withdraw their services. 
They refused to provide shelter to a homeless gay couple, unless they broke up and renounced their homosexuality. 
They refused to provide a transgender woman with shelter that was congruent with her gender presentation, instead insisting she house with men. She chose instead to sleep on the sidewalk and died from the cold.  
Speaking of gender, there was also this charming incident where one of their hostels refused to open the door for a 17-year-old victim who had just been brutally raped (or even call the police for her) because that particular hostel had a strict “men only” policy.
Children who can’t prove their immigration status are turned away.
The organization also disposes of any Harry Potter or Twilight related donations (rather than giving them to other charities), because they claim the toys are “incompatible with the charity’s Christian beliefs”. 
During the Bush Administration (thanks to ‘faith-based initiatives’) they fired about 20 long-time employees (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Gay), simply for refusing to sign the organization’s statement of Christian belief.  
Learning about stories like these a few years ago was a really great reminder for me that while charities are required to offer a "public good," doing good can mean very different things to different people. By my definition, The Salvation Army is not doing good. I don't share their worldview.

I decided it was time to stop the impulse to drop my change in that shiny red bucket, no matter how nice the guy ringing the bell might be. I ask that you do the same.

Philanthropy shouldn't be a mindless action; it should be made from both the heart and the head. You should be able to say that you are giving your time and money to organizations that share your hopes for the future. Yes, this means that you'll need to do some research and find out about the fabulous smaller charity in your area that can't afford a huge campaign that puts a person at every Walmart door. Yes, it means that it will take more time than dumping your change purse into the bucket. Do not let this deter you. You see, being mindful about your gift means that your money will go toward deserving organizations that you can stand fully behind. You will learn about the really great stuff happening in your backyard. You'll join a segment of your community that inspires you.

And for those of us on the nonprofit management side of things, it will mean an increase in the pipeline of wonderful, dedicated, engaged donors, which is greatly needed.

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