I’ve never been a particularly charitable person, something I recently decided I wanted to work on being better at. Figuring out just how I wanted to do that has been an interesting process that’s led to a lot of introspection.
First, I thought an awful lot about why I’m not charitable – although honestly, it’s not that hard to figure out. The root of it comes from having been raised in an environment where charity was unacceptable. To his credit, my father came from extreme poverty and managed to build a comfortable life. But he also tended to weaponize his own experiences against those in need. Think an, “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and so can they,” mentality, with a solid dose of, “Why should I give my money to those who haven’t earned it?” on the side.
As for my mother, well … I’m not sure she actually agreed with my father, but she certainly toed his line. She was rarely blatant about it, but little comments here and there made it clear to me that, at the very least, she wouldn’t support me if I decided to make a donation to a cause and my father found out about it. Although I do remember one time when she wasn’t subtle about it. When I was a teenager, a singer my mother particularly liked was doing a benefit concert for Operation Go Home – now called Operation Come Home – an organization whose purpose was to provide support for homeless youth, with the ultimate goal of reuniting them with their families. I suggested to my mother that we go, because it would be a fun night out for us, and, “It’s for a good cause.”
She was evasive and noncommittal when I first brought it up, but when I mentioned it again some days later, she said that we couldn’t go because, “Your father doesn’t agree with it.” ‘It’ was Operation Come Home. She went on to explain that in his opinion, kids who ran away were ungrateful brats who had only themselves to blame, and didn’t deserve any help.
So … no show for us, then.
Eventually I struck out on my own in life and, like many people when they first leave home, I didn’t have much cash to spare, so my charitable giving stayed at a solid zero. But once I’d gotten myself together enough, I decided it was time for that to change. I set up a monthly recurring donation to World Wildlife Fund, something like $20 a month, which was charged automatically to my credit card.
This was great. Until it wasn’t. Some years later, I was in a financial situation that required cutting back, and my monthly donation had to go. This proved to be almost impossible. I couldn’t find anywhere on the organization’s website to cancel my donation subscription, nor did there seem to be any contact information provided, so I couldn’t even call or email them. If I remember correctly, I let it slide because the expiry date on my credit card was changing anyway, and future payments wouldn’t be approved. But the experience left a sour taste in my mouth.
My next attempt at charity was a fundraiser, something well outside of my comfort zone. My mother was very anti-fundraiser. Every year, my high school music program sold oranges and grapefruit to raise money, and my brothers and I weren’t allowed to canvas the neighbourhood because of my mother’s concern that people who knew us would feel obligated to order something even if they didn’t want to. The same went for other school fundraisers. Selling magazine subscriptions or chocolate covered almonds or the like, my mother would buy something so we could say we participated, but that was it. And honestly, my socially anxious little self was just as happy I didn’t have to spend hours knocking on strangers’ doors.
The fundraiser I ‘organized’ was a little different than that, though. A friend and coworker had died from cancer, and I decided to shave my head to raise funds for research in his memory. I got permission to do the Great Shave at a workplace meeting, but the fundraising itself had to be very passive to meet company guidelines. I was allowed to post signs, but not actively ask for money (which was just fine with me). The payoff for donating? Whichever of my co-workers donated the most would ‘win’ the chance to shave my head at the next meeting. The idea generated a lot of excitement at my workplace, mostly because, as these Before and After photos show, cutting off my hair would be a major change.
The fundraiser was a success – it memorialized a dear friend, raised a decent amount of money, and gave me the incentive to finally shave my head. And I’m not going to lie. Getting a standing ovation from my coworkers was pretty fucking awesome.
But it also highlighted some problems. It reinforced how uncomfortable I am with the process of transacting with others for donations, as I experienced a knee-jerk, “But what if they don’t really want to?” reaction every time someone handed me some money. And yes, this was in spite of the fact that I asked nobody directly, and they all came to me.
The other issue was with the recipient. Again to meet company guidelines, I couldn’t choose just any organization to receive the funds. My friend’s family had asked for donations in his memory to go to a small, local group that had provided the family with much support, but I ended up having to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society, a large organization with a poor record for making efficient use of donations it receives.
Speaking of large charitable organizations with poor records, although I’ve never donated to them, I’ve somehow gotten onto The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s mailing list. It’s been mildly annoying, because I hate the waste created by paper that gets thrown straight into the recycling bin the moment it arrives. But last week, they graduated from mildly annoying to Are You Fucking Shitting Me? levels when an envelope stuffed with all of this landed in my mailbox
Why in the hell would I want to donate when I know far too much of my money is going to go towards jamming a bunch of random crap in an envelope and hoping it sticks?
It’s experiences like these that drove me away from donating to charity for years. The guilt I felt for going against my father that still resides in my core delayed me even longer. So did the overwhelming task of deciding just who I wanted to donate to. But thinking about my mother, who made her first ever charitable donation in her 70s, when she went to the grocery store and bought an entire order for the food bank, I realized it’s never too late to make a start.
These days, I make a monthly donation to a different organization or charity. There are simply too many causes that are important to me to pick just one – animals, the environment, BIPOC issues, LGBTQ+ issues, food security, the arts – so I spread my limited wealth around. I generally focus on local initiatives and avoid large organizations. I ask friends to let me know about organizations they support. I keep a list of possible recipients for future reference. Sometimes I have several months worth of donations mapped out. Sometimes it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision. Sometimes, when it’s a bad month, I don’t donate at all, and that’s okay.
All of these tactics have helped me overcome my personal stumbling blocks to being charitable. Now, instead of feeling stressed about donating, I enjoy it. And now that I’ve developed a comfort level with both the idea and the process, I’ve decided it’s time to come full circle.
This month’s donation? It’s to Operation Come Home.