The guilt-free way to make a charity donation

Deciding on a charity donation? Here's how to choose – and how to skip the guilt if you don't give to charity.

John Dickson/News Gazette/AP/File
Envoy Kris Fuqua, Corps administrator at the Salvation Army in Champaign, Ill., holds a bag containing six servings of rice, dried vegetables, and vitamins. The Salvation Army and another charity teamed up to deliver 285,000 such packaged dry meals to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake. Here's a guide to how to decide when to make a charity donation and how not to feel guilty when you choose not to give.

Monica writes:

My biggest “financial leak” is charities. I constantly see people in need and I feel deeply guilty if I don’t help them, especially since I know I have plenty of financial resources with which to help them. The result is that I end up with less money than I expected and it’s hard to make ends meet. I still feel guilty, though. What do you suggest?

Giving to others is a great thing. Giving to the right charities can have a profound positive effect on many lives and it can also make you feel really good about yourself and the positive impact you have on the world. If you have the financial resources to give, I strongly encourage you to do so.

However, I don’t feel guilty about charities that I don’t give to. There are more good causes out there than I can possibly give my money to. Because of that, I know that I have to decide between various causes.

For us, that’s an important decision. We use a few criteria to determine what charities to give to.

The only charities we give significant money to are either ones where I directly sit on the executive board, immediate family members are deeply involved with, or we’ve been able to strongly certify how their money is spent. If one of those three are not true, we don’t give them money.

If a charity attempts to use a sense of guilt as a reason to convince me to give right now, I don’t like it, to the point that I resent the charity and actively do not give to them.

For one, if they’re using such tactics, they’re investing a lot of money and energy into marketing, not into helping the people they’re trying to help. If I feel guilt in response to a charitable plea, I know it’s marketing at work above all else.

My dollar to a charity very rarely goes 100% to a cause. Every charity has overhead in terms of hiring people to handle the donations, handle the taxes, and handle the distribution. However, but I want the vast majority of it to go to the cause I’m supporting. I also prefer to decide on my own what causes are most deserving of my money without guilt-based marketing pleas. Whenever I see a sob story, both of those principles are violated. When I reflect on it, I usually wind up irritated at that charity, actually.

Our solution is a charity budget. Once a year, we sit down and evaluate what causes we want to give to far away from guilt-based charity advertisement. We use sources like Charity Navigator to help us determine what charities will actually do with our donations and we make a pretty firm decision about our giving.

Whenever I see pleas for charitable giving, I simply remind myself that (1) this is marketing at work and (2) we’ve already given a substantial amount this year and have already decided what to spend the rest on. These two facts knock down any focus group designed charity marketing that we see.

Don’t feel guilty about charities you can’t afford to give to. Know what you can afford and plan it in advance. Recognize that the heart pangs you feel are just the result of marketing intended to make you feel that way. Walk away and make your decision with an unclouded mind.

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