I’m getting fed up with all of the charity solicitations when I’m out shopping.
I take my philanthropy seriously. Each year, Len and I sit down and go through all of our large gifts, review our priorities, decide which organizations to support, etc. We do big gifts, we do little gifts. We do operating gifts, we do capital gifts. We serve on boards of non-profits, so we give our time and energy as well.
So why do I find it so annoying when I go to the grocery store, and they ask me if I will add a contribution to the Boys & Girls Club? I’m there to pick up milk and orange juice – what does the Boys & Girls club have to do with that? I find it an intrusion on my personal space, an “ask” when an ask is not appropriate. Last week, when I was purchasing a mattress pad at Bed Bath & Beyond, I was asked if I would pay for a bottle of hand sanitizer that would go to a soldier in our armed services. Really? Mattress pad = hand sanitizer for soldiers?
I think that the reason it annoys me is that I automatically feel guilty. How can I be so cheap as to not add a dollar for the Boys & Girls Club? To purchase a bottle of hand sanitizer? But, I sternly remind myself, my giving is under my control, not under the random control of merchants, who are making selections of charities according to their values, not mine. After all, there is no “bad” cause. In fact, there are probably hundreds of thousands of worthy causes.
Now I realize that some people are not charitable on a regular basis. Perhaps for them, it’s a nice reminder that on occasion, one should do something generous for strangers. However, even for the not-so-charitable, I would argue that it would somehow be better to inspire them to be thoughtful about their giving, rather than purely opportunistic.
In fact, this whole charitable giving + company marketing is really getting out of hand. Buy this yogurt, and we’ll give to breast cancer research. Buy these glasses and we’ll give a pair to a poor person. Buy this jacket and we’ll donate to hurricane victims. Sure, these are all worthy causes, and perhaps the people purchasing these items are motivated by the pitch, and thus both the companies benefit, and the charities benefit. But, I wonder, how much truly goes to the charities, and how much is really about burnishing a company image. What if, somehow, I could direct those donations to the charities that I want to support, not those chosen for me?
Now, I’m a diehard capitalist, and have no problem with positive company branding exercises. But I’d really rather make my own priorities about when and where to give. And I’d like you all to back-off on the constant asks. Particularly when I’ve just popped in for a carton of milk.