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Charity: A Consideration of Responsibility

Every day, at least everyday the physical mail arrives, our household receives as many as a half dozen (and at times more) mail solicitations from charitable organizations. A similar stream of requests comes to us via Email.

While some might consider this a nuisance, or a waste, or even harassment, by the charities, I decidedly do not. I consider the inflow reasonable, and the charities’ efforts to solicit as legitimate, and the imposition on me not a nuisance, but to the contrary a challenge. Not a challenge in a sense of how to handle or dispose of the mail, or how to stem the flow, but a challenge as to how to respond in an ethically responsible and appropriate manner.

So, given a decision to not dismiss, or throw out, or simply ignore the incoming wave, what is the proper action? Should I give, and how much? Now our household, as might be considered typical, earns sufficient income to cover necessities and some amenities, but we are not living in large luxury. We own standard brand (Chevy, Pontiac) cars, live in a modest single family home, consider Saturday evening at the local pizza parlor as eating out, and turn down the heat to keep the utility bills affordable. homeless charity

Contributing thus falls within our means, but not without trade-offs, and even sacrifice.

So should we give? And how much? Let’s consider (and dismiss) some initial concerns, concerns which could otherwise deflect, diminish or even remove an obligation to donate.

The Legitimacy and Efficiency of Charities – Stories surface, more often than desirable, highlighting unscrupulous individuals who prey on sympathy and use sham charity websites to collect contributions but then keep the donations. Other stories uncover less than competent actions by charities, for example excessive salaries, inappropriate marketing costs, lack of oversight. With this, then, why give?

While striking, these stories, as I scan the situation, represent outliers. The stories rate as news due to the very fact that they represent the atypical. Do I believe mainline charities, like Salvation Army, or Catholic Charities, or Doctors without Borders, do I believe them so inefficient or corrupt to justify my not giving? No. Rather, the response, if I and anyone have concerns about a charity, is to research the charity, to check and find those that are worthy, and not to simply cast one’s obligation aside.

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