A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 7, 2010

I Won't Pick Up a Guitar if You Don't Run a Charity

As we again come upon the busiest fund-raising season of the year I, again urge you to know your charity and donate locally. We are a generous and empathetic people who react with our hearts when seeing the ravages of an earthquake on the news, or expensive television ads of forlorn children and injured animals. We respond with our purses when celebrities beg for donations and plead with viewers to join them in giving. I do too - but I worry about how often we can be disappointed and develop charity fatigue. I fear for those who still need the help after the compassionate tire of giving.

It has been reported in the New York Post that Bono, of the rock band U2 has channeled only one percent of his charity's fifteen million dollars to actual causes, It is constantly discussed that the billions of dollars in aid raised for Haiti has yet to find its way to those who are still suffering almost one year after an earthquake. Linda Polman in a book entitled "The Crises Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?" laments that needed aid may not reach its intended destination, and, if it does, may land in the wrong hands, embezzled and/or and make matters worse! And finally, in our business, there are those who still believe that donating to aspca and hsus helps your spcaLA or any other spca or human society. They are neither umbrella organizations, nor connected legally to any other similarly named organization. My issue is not that people shouldn't donate to these organizations but that they should intend to do so rather than doing so in error and assuming that they are something that they are not.(Both aspca and hsus have been asked to put meaningful disclosures on their commercials and other advertising materials. Both have refused.)

The combination of generosity, disaster, and fame can add up to a veritable "candy store" for the unprincipled, greedy and the opportunistic as non existent charities put up web sites to solicit funds, as the well intended start their own charities but run them poorly, and as existing charities spend their fund on public relations, television spots and the appearance of helping rather than actually serving the needy. I am truly terrified that those who can give, will stop, believing that they are not making a difference or that they have been bamboozled. What will happen to your spcaLA and to those vulnerable populations that desperately need a helping hand and a voice!

Rather than souring on giving, research the situation, ask questions and make sure your gift is going to whom and where you so intend. Consider donating to an existing legitimate local organization that you can visit, talk to, and just see in action. Frequently, your local charity may be providing international relief as well or is affiliated with one who is.  Giving locally also helps to strengthen the community in which you live. It is especially true in these horrid economic times where the philanthropic entities are filling gaps left by the government and the for-profit sector. If the reputable local nonprofits fail - there will be no relief. Additionally, bolstering the local charities boosts the local economy, provides jobs, resources and allows the community to thrive. Stronger communities result in stronger cities, states and countries. Our ability to help others improves with our own increased strength and solvency.

Charity begins at home. It is only when we stand strong that we can lift another.

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