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23 March 2010

Ask MeCha. A lawyer friend who I have not seen since high school asked if I would donate to her boss's charity as part of their fundraising golf tournament. I had never heard of it and looked up their Form 990 on GuideStar. [More:]For the last year available they had income of $276,000. They spent $45,000 on grants, $15,000 on general expenses and $58,000 on fundraising expenses. The extra money is being kept as unrestricted funds. The grants were almost all to a single Catholic high school. Needless to say, I am not inclined to donate to this group.

I could just ignore it, but she sent me a personalized message so I figure I would probably respond. Should I explain why I choose not to donate to this group? I feel like doing that but maybe it is not a good idea. Your thoughts?
I'd go with something brief along the lines of "I'd like to help, but money's a little tight right now and I have to give priority to my usual charities. Good luck with the fundraiser, though."
posted by Wolfdog 23 March | 12:40
I get a lot of requests for donations and I have kind of a canned response these days. It goes something like "I have a budget for charitable donations to organizations I support that stays pretty stable year to year, and I'm afraid it's all spoken for by now." Of course I feel free to break my own rule when I want to, but it makes me feel totally OK not giving to stuff when people ask. It's not that I don't give, I just plan it ahead of time to reflect personal priorities.

It sounds like this charity is basically a booster club for the school. It also sounds like she's using the 'birdshot' approach for fundraising - pepper all of your acquaintances with requests in the hopes of getting a 1% return - and you can certainly turn the request down with impunity. It's not as though it's a close friend who you really have a history of exchanging favors with.
posted by Miko 23 March | 12:56
P.S. their financials aren't terrible. The $58,000 is about twenty percent-ish of income, which is definitely in the standard acceptable ballpark. There's also no problem with them designating funds as unrestricted. Unrestricted dollars are the best kind, both to get and to give, because they are available to respond to anything the institution might need, rather than being designated for a specific purpose and so unavailable when, say, the roof caves in or the boiler blows up or some Haitian kids need homes and scholarships all of a sudden.

To me the key thing is that it's not a charity you have any reason to support - not that they're underhanded or something. What you've described is OK. But you are in no way required to support every charity someone approaches you about.
posted by Miko 23 March | 13:01
I do a lot of asking friends and acquaintances for donations (I work for an NPO and am on the board of another NPO). If--as happens sometimes--one of those folks voices a complaint about something concrete the organization has done to them (like failing to have an unsubscribe option from a mail-list), I always pass the concern along to fundraising / donor relations. If they complain about the organization itself, I will see if I have the necessary information to address the complaint, but usually I let it drop unless it's something which is patently false. Then I contact fundraising / donor relations and ask them if there are talking points I can use to respond. I never get annoyed when someone says what Wolfdog or Miko suggest and I never get annoyed if someone fails to respond at all. You either develop a very removed attitude about the begging for money all the time or you stop doing it.

I think everyone should have charities they support. I wish everyone supported charities that I value (or at least the ones I am supposed to be raising money for!), but I don't expect it. Like everything else, I try not to be rude or overbearing making my requests and I just hope no-one will be rude in return.
posted by crush-onastick 23 March | 13:08
"fundraising golf tournament" - Major alarm bells ringing!

I am sure many golf tournaments are legitimate fundraisers, however I know that many of those in Atlanta are nothing more than an excuse to hire a bunch of strippers, lingerie models and escorts to act as caddies while the execs bid for the women to perform various acts from one hole to the next. A good clue is when the tournament occurs midweek and the entire course is reserved for preregistered entrants only.
posted by Ardiril 23 March | 13:14
Yeah, Miko, I don't think it's totally horrible that they spent 20 percent on fundraising. I think it's bad that it's their biggest expense, though. Not only are the program expenses things that I don't really support, but who knows what they will spend all this money on in the future.
posted by grouse 23 March | 13:37
I think it's bad that it's their biggest expense, though.

It'd be hard to judge without seeing their financials. If they are raising money for a capital campaign, for instance, then this would make total sense. Or if the money is building an endowment, rainy day fund, or similar.
posted by Miko 23 March | 13:52
If, but I don't think that's the case. If it is, they should say so. Five years after the organization is founded I think they should have more on the section of the web site describing what their work than simply "Information Coming Soon..."
posted by grouse 23 March | 14:00
I make all my charitable donations over the Christmas holiday season. This helps keep all the accounting easier around the time frame of taxes; and also gathered in a nice, neat tidy pile.

And it serves as a polite way to pass on donations any other time of year.
posted by buzzman 23 March | 14:24
I'm just glad to see people using Guidestar! I helped create that in the mid/late 1990s when I was working with the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Also helped with
posted by terrapin 25 March | 07:20
The "Whoops! Obama's Talking to the Entire Country" Guy || "Hipster" slur to be replaced by "Fauxhemian"