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If you want to give, be smart about it

I'm not going to feel guilty anymore. Instead I'm going to keep telling myself that it's okay to simply look away, just flat out say "no" and hush that inner voice that's always nagging me about how I'm supposed to be my brother's keeper.

Actually I've been heading in that direction for awhile, desensitized from being bombarded at every turn by someone else wanting a handout.

The phone calls and multiple mailings from this or that charitable organization; the school kids selling stuff I really don't want or need; the bucket-toting, safety-vest-wearing people working the local intersections; the supermarket checkout workers asking if I want to donate a dollar to this week's featured charity; and the "Homeless Vietnam vet," "Will work for food" folks that seem to be everywhere these days.

No, no, no, no, no.

The truth is, I stopped giving to the cardboard-sign-carrying folks awhile ago — before St. Petersburg Times staff writer Lane DeGregory gave us the beggars' eye-opening viewpoint last week in the feature story, "The truth is flexible: Panhandlers have many strategies for getting people's sympathy in order to make money."

That story — which described some panhandlers making $60 to $100 a day, living in motels and sometimes changing their signs to appeal to different people — gave a lot of us permission to not feel bad about passing on the handout.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against giving someone a step up. I really do buy into that stuff mom used to preach on how what you give away comes back tenfold.

And I've been on both ends of that deal, buoyed more than once by someone who's been better off at the time and holds the view that it's better to give than to receive.

No doubt about it, we should all pay it forward when we have the means.

That's why I have no problem tossing cash in "no strings" fashion to a friend who has fallen on hard times. I support a core group of charities on a regular basis.

But I also believe in being a responsible, intelligent giver.

Especially in this economy, I want to be sure my hard-earned cash is well spent — that it isn't going toward the hefty administrative costs of some cancer-fighting group. I want to know that the money I donate to the church is being funneled to the local food pantry or putting shoes on some poor kid's feet instead of building a state-of-the-art choir loft so Sunday's show can be even more spectacular. I want ALL the dollars I dole out to the school to actually go there rather than being split so some overpriced, wrapping paper or useless trinket selling fundraising company makes a fine profit.

Being a responsible giver does take some effort.

Even so, it can be as easy as checking out how charities spend their money (visit charitablechoices.org or charity navigator.org online); as easy as giving a full-out donation rather than purchasing the pricey wrapping paper or doing simple addition to figure that sending all those mailers out is probably money ill-spent.

And it can be as tough as just saying, "No."

Now, hush.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6251.

If you want to give, be smart about it 07/12/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 12, 2009 5:30am]
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