This country is a land of contradictions. Its people display measureless greed and exceptional generosity.
Individual greed is obvious in armed robberies, Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme and blatant invitations to turn accidents into million-dollar windfalls. At the corporate level, look no further than the act of jacking up the price of EpiPens, vital for survival for some allergy sufferers, by 500 percent.
On the other hand, people rush to the aid of storm victims with dollars and work at the scene. Through churches and civic organizations, the broadest possible range of aid is provided to impoverished nations and people in need locally. Contributions are made to find cures for terrible diseases. Government at every level addresses human problems, but our world really runs on sweet charity. - not contributions, not churches or civic clubs. Georgia Southern and all other such institutions would become shadows of what they are now.
Seniors are leading contributors of self, time and money. Many of them grew up in rural or small-town communities where mutual aid was both necessary and expected. It was a culture of giving. They saw the March of Dimes movement produce a cure for polio, which was an ugly killer and crippler. In the present, less of their income is required for raising children. They can and do give.
However, seniors should be informed givers. Some fundraising is fraudulent. Seniors, be careful, especially about telephone solicitations. Never provide credit card numbers to strangers. Verify their claims about their identities and organizations.
I find some of the legitimate solicitations troubling. First, if I give a dollar, I get another request from the same organization a month later. It becomes something close to harassment.
Seniors should know that in some cases, only a small part of their contributions ever get to be applied to the problem in question. Take a fictitious organization, the National Association for the Prevention and Cure of Twinkle Toes, or NAPCTT. Just say that the NAPCTT has been around for 50 years. It has officers and staff, all drawing pay and benefits, a national headquarters in a high-rent urban setting. They engage in public information and political lobbying but do not cure anything.
They pay a fundraising organization to get more money to keep NAPCTT going, sending out more mailings to you and me. One of the ways to make money is to sell the NAPCTT mailing list to others that are trying to raise money for some other cause, so we get even more solicitations in the mail. None of these fundraising people do anything to cure anything. Finally, some fraction of your contribution becomes part of a contract to support meaningful research.
There is no directory that reveals how much overhead or "indirect costs" eat up our contributions. Even some high-profile organizations focusing on serious issues are among the voracious eaters of contributions. So, how do we know how to give?
Personally, I start locally. Churches and civic groups support a wide range of important services at home and abroad at zero indirect cost. And it is possible to designate all or part of these contributions to causes favored by the contributor. Gifts to Georgia Southern and Ogeechee Tech can be directed to help students and special programs, not just brick and mortar. While there is a fundraising cost, it is relatively modest.
Seniors and others, do not allow yourselves to be manipulated by fundraisers. They send all sorts of things in the mail with their gimme letters. There are calendars of all sizes, mostly large; I have received three for 2017 already. There are cover-ups, little flash lights, tote bags, magnifiers and on and on. There are return address labels and seasonal pictures, and they are not always correct. Somebody got my name wrong and then sold the incorrect mailing list. Besides, I have a lifetime supply and a problem with disposal because they gum up my shredder, and such personal data should not be sent away in the trash. They even send money, mostly nickels and dimes, but even small checks.
All of that is sent to make us feel obligated. We are not. Whatever comes to your mailbox in your name is yours. Keep any of it that you want. Use it, give it away, dump it. Do not feel obligated to give anything. Feel a bit irritated, even indignant at this attempt to use you in a fundraising campaign that is as impersonal as the misspelling of my name on mailings and "gift" labels.
Finally, some of us are so concerned about a particular illness or issue that we are willing to donate, even if a large part of the gift is going to overhead. I do. After all, it is our money going to something that is important to us. Even if it does not speak loudly, it still speaks for us.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.