Extending a helping hand

“Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?”

Holiday season means we all start thinking about charities, because charities know that this is the best time of the year to get people to donate. We’re all full of the spirit of giving and thanksgiving, right? And there’s no better way to demonstrate that than by sending a check to a cause we support.

There are, however, some not-very-good charities out there. I’ve seen two awareness-raising posts go by on social media in the past two days already, and I’m sure there will be more as more organizations gear up for the holidays. But I don’t like just raising awareness, because awareness by itself won’t change things; I prefer to raise awareness with a side of “here’s positive action you can take.”

So to address those two problematic charities I’ve already seen:

Pink ribbon campaigns. As someone with multiple family members who have battled cancer, including breast cancer, I’m all for donating money to groups that help cancer patients get treatment, research new treatments and cures, and advocate for prevention. But buying pink products is just about the worst way to get money to those groups. Companies that pinkify their products often set a limit on how much money they’ll donate from a pink campaign, like Reebok setting a limit of $750,000 for their donation to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade; regardless of how much money they made from slapping pink ribbons on their products, they wouldn’t donate more than $750k. They undoubtedly made much, much more than that. Similarly, companies like Yoplait donate only a small portion of the proceeds made from their pink products — in Yoplait’s case, only $0.10 per lid — or the NFL donating only $11.25 out of every $100 of revenue generated by their “A Crucial Catch” campaign. Plus, a lot of companies use the feel-good effect of the pink ribbon to draw attention away from less savory aspects of their work, like cosmetics companies that use chemicals linked to cancer, or Smith & Wesson being, y’know, Smith & Wesson.

Unless you are eating a lot of yogurt (in which case you might have bigger problems — is your digestive track okay?), it’s more efficient for you to give money directly to an organization like the American Cancer SocietyBreast Cancer Action, or the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

(The Susan G. Komen foundation has a pretty spotty track record, including cutting (and then restoring) funds to Planned Parenthood in 2012 due to their VP’s anti-abortion views — you know, one of the major organizations in the US providing breast cancer screenings and preventive care to low-income women — as well as aggressively shutting down smaller charities that use “For the Cure” or the color pink in their fundraising. Not coincidentally, they’re one of the groups most associated with pink ribbon marketing. So I personally am extremely unwilling to let my money go to them. You’ll have to make your own call on that one.)

You could also consider giving to an organization that specifically treats cancers. I personally have a warm spot in my heart for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where my mother was treated (successfully) for her cancer. See if there’s a treatment or research center in your area, or where the people you love were/are treated, that could use your donation.

The Salvation Army. I can’t support giving money to the Salvation Army. Normally I try to give people and organizations the benefit of the doubt, but the Salvation Army has a long history of pursuing anti-LGBTQ rights actions worldwide. I’m talking seeking exemptions to anti-discrimination laws from the US government, threatening to leave New York City if required to extend benefits to the same-sex partners of employees (an ordinance new Mayor de Blasio can enforce now if he chooses to), and the well-publicized incident last year where their Australian spokesman, Major Andrew Craibe, agreed with an interviewer when asked if the Salvation Army believes Romans 1:18-32 calls for the execution of gay people.

I’m trying to be fair here: the Salvation Army promptly distanced itself from Craibe’s remarks, and as of October 4, 2013, its website has this to say on the Army’s nondiscrimination policy:

A diverse range of views on homosexuality exist within The Salvation Army – as among the wider Christian (and non-Christian) community. But no matter where individual Salvationists stand on this matter, The Salvation Army does not permit discrimination on the basis of sexual identity in the delivery of its services or in its employment practices. Our international mission statement is very clear on this point when it says we will ‘meet human needs in [Jesus’] name without discrimination’. Anyone who comes through our doors will be welcomed with love and service, based on their need and our capacity to provide.

And that’s great, but I don’t really trust it. As recently as 2011, according to the NY Times, their position statement called for gays and lesbians to live a celibate lifestyle because “Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex.” They only seem to backpedal when people call them out and threaten to boycott.

So skip the red kettles and donate money, goods, or time to a local shelter. Here’s a partial list of LGBTQ friendly shelters, state by state, and there’s the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Another option is the Polaris Project; their focus is on helping survivors of human trafficking, including helping with transitional housing.

In the end, it’s your money and time, and I personally salute anyone who goes out of their way to help other people — even if it’s through organizations that I don’t personally support. The thought does count for something. But it’s still a good idea to find out where your money is going; you want it to do more good than harm. Ask questions! Do research! Google is your friend. So is Charity Navigator, which goes through tax forms so you don’t have to.

Also, consider giving year round rather than just at the holidays. Need doesn’t stop on December 26th. Help shouldn’t either.

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