A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 13, 2012

Don't Be Bamboozled This Holiday Season: Give Locally

Courtesy spcaLA

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 a hurricane 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.

The combination of generosity, disaster, and fame can add up to a veritable "candy store" for the unprincipled, greedy and the opportunistic as nonexistent 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. For example, in the animal welfare industry, aspca, the New York City spca is not an umbrella organization which funnels funds to other spcas by zip code as is the case with other real national charities like Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. spcas throughout the country are individual legal entities and not chapters of any mother organization. Yet aspca spends tens of millions of dollars annually on television and other fundraising outlets which omit that significant fact. Many consumers are duped and upset upon learning that their donation did not help abused and unwanted animals in their communities. By the way, to their credit, hsus, began putting such language (that they are not affiliated with local humane societies) on their new television spots to avoid creating a misimpression and thereby attracting misinformed donors. I hope this is a first step in putting meaningful disclaimers on all of their materials.

So please, 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.

For those of you in California: The Attorney General has issued a report and a warning to us to be careful about giving to charities where a lot or all of  donated funds are used to pay professional fundraisers. See the Associated Press story on this issue as well as the actual report.

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