How NOT to get my money.

Last year I did a post about charitable giving in the spirit of the holidays, and how we try to incorporate it into our traditions. At the risk of spitting in the face of that spirit, I’ve decided to forgo that post this year, and replace it with this one.

We will still be doing our standard charity-drawing on Christmas this year. One charity that we have donated to in the past will no longer be on the list, for multiple reasons. That charity, is NPR (specifically WETA 90.9FM). They weren’t on the list last year, either.

The main reason we no longer donate (or even consider donating) to WETA is simple. Shortly after we made a donation to WETA, they stopped broadcasting the type of programming we were interested in (NPR talk shows like Car Talk, This American Life, Fresh Air, etc.). Fair enough?

We continue to receive “please donate” letters from WETA, which is fine. I don’t begrudge them the opportunity to ask former members to make contributions. I absolutely understand that WETA is dependent on donations in order to continue their operations. What I object to is the tone of the letter I received from their marketing department. Here is an excerpt from the letter, with the language I dislike bolded (emphasis mine):

The fact is that too many people continue to “let someone else do it.” They leave the support of WETA to the few of us whose sense of fair play won’t allow us to enjoy WETA’s great programs without sharing fairly in the cost to present them.

You used to be one of us. We counted on you. And you never let us down. But recently you let your membership lapse.

That’s terrible news for us since WETA is a “community licensed” public broadcast station. That means we don’t have a financial safety net of an institutional parent to fall back upon.

We have members like you to sustain us. We count on you to replace the institutional funding that we do not get. But recently, you left the family.

Inevitably we have members who don’t renew because they have moved out of our signal area. But you didn’t move. You’re still in the neighborhood.

I really don’t know why you left us. But I do know that we very much need to have you back.

This is just a small portion of the letter, but it is the critical part that strikes the tone that I object to. I’m not questioning NPR’s value or need to raise funds. What I AM questioning, is the method with which they do so. I do not respond well to guilt trips. “Accusatory” is generally not the tone you want to strike if you’re trying to get me to make a donation.

I wonder if they might find a more effective way of marketing themselves and gaining contributions. Here’s a thought: maybe NPR stations could coordinate with each other to help each other out. Maybe something like this: “If you donated because of the excellent talk content that we no longer provide, please consider donating to another local NPR affiliate such as WAMU, 88.5FM.”

I have always thought that WETA was a bit heavy-handed with their fund raising techniques. I don’t know if that is typical of other NPR stations, but I hope not. I know that raising money in the non-profit world is extremely difficult, but I think WETA could stand to revisit their message and refine the way in which they look for monetary support.

Bill Gates: “creative capitalism. . .”

Say what you like about Microsoft and their products, but it seems that their founder is a genuinely good-hearted human being. I know it is (seemingly) easier to give money when you’ve got lots of it available, but I feel like Bill and his wife Melinda really go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to their philanthropy. It appears that they really want to work to get at the root of some of the societal problems that are the cause of much of the poverty in the world.

With his concept of “creative capitalism”, Gates encourages business leaders to creatively use market incentives to bring the benefits of scientific, medical, and technological advances to those who need it most: the poor. I have no idea how the business/economics of that will work, and how it will be profitable for businesses (the driving force behind capitalism, right?), but I certainly admire the sentiment.

A Charitable Tradition

During the holidays, there is naturally a lot of talk of gifts and giving in our household. Kate and I also talk a good deal about the traditions we grew up with as kids and which ones we want our family to continue. We also talk about creating new traditions that are unique to our growing family. Well, unique in the sense that neither Kate or I grew up with them.

Last year we decided that it was important to include charitable giving into our holiday rituals. There are so many good charitable organizations out there, and we just can’t afford to give all the money that we would like to all of them (no, becoming a platinum member of the Hokie Club does not qualify as “charity”). So we decided to do a charitable lottery, of sorts.

Before Christmas day, each person in our family gives some thought to the charities to which they would like to donate. On Christmas morning, before any gifts are opened, we write down the names of the charities, put them in a hat, and each person gets to pull out one charity. We then send a donation to each charity that gets pulled. Once a charity has been selected, they are omitted from the drawing the next year.

In addition to being a fun tradition (everybody gets to kind of “root” for their charities to get picked), it’s also an attempt to mitigate the three ring circus that Christmas has become. I won’t be so hypocritical as to say we don’t enjoy giving and receiving gifts, but I want to try to help my kids understand that there are folks who need gifts that are so much more important than a Wii. Or a bicycle. Or a book.

I don’t mean this to be a “look at us we’re so great” post. Please don’t, because we certainly aren’t. I mainly wanted to ask for additional ideas for charitable giving. Anything is up for grabs. Get creative. List your favorite charity in the comments, and they just might make it into this year’s hat. I’ll get the ball rolling with our three charities from last year, and those that are in the hat so far this year.

2006 Winners:

2007 “Nominees” so far: