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You can help charities run efficiently

From a young age, I was told that some charities are worth donating to and others aren’t worth it because they spend too much money running the charity and not enough money doing the charity work. Everyone who donates to feed starving children, for example, wants to know what percentage of her donation actually goes to the food and what percentage gets eaten up by operating costs.

Did you ever think, though, that making your money go the furthest wasn’t just about choosing which charity to pick over the others? You can actually help charities run more efficiently. You have the power to make more of your money go to the actual cause and not the running of the machine that helps the cause, and it’s easy, too. It’s no big thing. What I’m proposing works out better for everyone—the charity’s volunteers and employees, the charity’s beneficiaries, and the charity’s donors (you). And it doesn’t just apply to charities. This strategy can work for non-profits or any organization that is not financially self-sufficient.

Here are the simple steps you take: pick what charities you want to donate to and donate money to them, but be sure not to do so during a TV advertisement, pledge drive, fundraising event, or on-the-street solicitation. That’s it. Really. That’s all you have to do. If you feel the need to write a letter to make the point explicit to the organization, you can do that as well and basically say, “I believe in your organization and what it does, but I would prefer that you put more effort into doing what you usually do and less effort and resources into fundraising, so the less you contact me about donating, the more I will donate, and I will urge others to do the same.”

Of course, in order for this strategy to work, it requires that a lot of us do it. It can’t just be me. But let me explain how this works. Almost every non-profit organization, school, or charity has a governing board—a board of directors, a trustee board, a steering committee—some body that fundraisers have to give annual (or more frequent) reports to. In those reports, they explain why such-and-such resources are diverted into fundraising: “Through our efforts doing blah and blah, we were able to raise X dollars [or whatever currency], and at this particular fundraising event, we were able to raise X dollars [or whatever currency].” If they really are successful, the board or committee will be happy and will think all those fundraising efforts are worthwhile. More money and resources will go into hiring employees or recruiting volunteers to help fundraise. More postage and printing costs will go into massaging the egos of the donors and pestering and guilt-tripping them into donating. That’s money and resources not being used to achieve the organization’s main mission.

Will we ever completely abolish fundraising? No. Of course not. Be we can minimize the need for its efforts and make sure more of our donated money goes to good use by not responding positively to fundraising efforts. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get when I send $25 or $50 to a charity, and they send me a thank-you gift, a regular magazine, and all sorts of publications—all of which, coupled with the postage to send them, easily suck up all of my donation, if not more. You can be sure I won’t be donating to those organizations again. The charity does these things because these things work. Sending thank-you gifts and such, begging for money, pestering people on the streets, holding fundraising events all increase donations. Even though there are people like me who actually donate less when pestered to donate, there are enough people not like me (people who donate more when pestered) that if a fundraising effort takes US$30,000 of resources, it will still bring in more than US$30,000 of donations (the charity hopes a lot more).

But if there were more people like me, fundraising efforts would not bring in more money, and then they would be ditched, and more of the money would go into doing some actual good. So, please, join me in rewarding charities and non-profits when they do good work, and not when they pester you for donations.