Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Charity should not begin at the checkout

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I think charities are a big fat ripoff, especially those that hit you up for donations at checkout counters.

I was really upset to learn that one of my charities takes 45 cents out of every dollar I send them to spend on "fundraising." This probably explains all those glossy Christmas cards, name and address labels, notepads and other items that arrive unbidden and unwanted in my mail several times a year.

And they're not the only one. A quick check of Charity Intelligence Canada ( reveals there are many charities with unconscionably high fund-raising and administration costs, helmed by well paid CEOs.

I wouldn't begrudge them their high costs if we saw some progress. But there hasn't been any. So far cancer isn't cured and the homeless are still out there.

In fact, everything just seems to get worse, while charities get bigger and have shinier offices. Charities have become a growth industry.

Come to think of it, the Charity Industry is becoming as big as Environment Inc., which is to say, huge! Take carbon emissions offset trading for example.

Big bucks can be made by astute investors who follow cap and trade emission prices on the world markets. And now that there's an ETF (ticker CARB on the London Stock Exchange) even the little guy can profit by betting on the price of CO2 emission futures. There is money to be made here! Or lost.

Never mind the inconvenient truth that Al Gore is now in hot water with his leftie supporters because he sold his television network that fights Big Oil to Al Jazeera for a huge profit. Al Jazeera is inconveniently headquartered in Big Oil territory in Qatar. But heavens, do they want principles to get in the way of a good trade?

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, charities.

In addition to wasting people's donations on postage and unwanted trinkets, charities tend to become competitive. Goodwill and warm fuzzies get replaced by bullying and intimidation.

Where I play golf we run an annual charity golf tournament for a local women's shelter. Every year it seems that the goal is to top the amount raised from last year's committee. People get so aggressive in their zeal to sell tickets many women have privately said to me that they don't want to participate any more. It's just too stressful to be collared and yanked around in front of colleagues and embarrassed into spending $20 or $30 or $40 more than they have budgeted for.

Methinks that "shaming" works wonders -- but it only works once. After that, you lose your core group of supporters. Unless they have no other choice.

Which brings me to my point.

Charities have recently crossed a line in the sand as far as I'm concerned. When I visit my local grocery store now, the cashier wants to know if I would be willing to add $2 to my bill to aid some charity or other.

Yep, charities have started the outrageous and annoying practice of making cashiers ask for money on their behalf. Even worse, some charities are now getting government liquor store employees to shill for money on their behalf! Talk about yanking the old guilt chain. It was bad enough running the Sally Ann gauntlet getting in and out of a beer store, now they get you at the till too!

Why do they do this? Because it works. And it works precisely because people feel guilty and embarrassed. No one wants to be viewed as an uncaring cheapskate.

People are afraid that the cashier and those in the lineup behind them will think they are a slob who is against heart research or spotted owls. So they say "yes" and add $2 to their bill.

Charities used to have volunteers go door to door canvassing for money. I did it for body parts (heart and kidney) for several years before they stopped using me as free labour.

Now, with food and booze cashiers begging for bucks, charities have hit the mother lode. They can milk the embarrassment factor to the hilt. Why privately humiliate a lone homeowner on her own doorstep (where she can mutter that she gave at the office and close the door) when you can shame someone in front of a whole lineup of curious and irritated shoppers?

I get very annoyed when asked to donate. I don't have a problem saying no. And I make a mental note to never, ever give to that particular charity.

For those who can't bring themselves to say no, here's a suggestion: Smile pleasantly, nod affirmatively and then ask if your $2 could be sent to your own favourite charity instead of their Charity du Jour?

When they say no, look disappointed, shake your head sympathetically, and get on with your day. Problem solved.

Marilyn Baker is a freelance writer

in Richmond, British Columbia.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2013 A6

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