This year Rev. Rick Warren (Saddleback Church) saved every Christmas catalog that hit his mailbox. He reported that he had received 116 catalogs and the entire pile of catalogs weighed over 40 lbs. His single “tweet” on the subject was “What a waste”. Around Dec. 3rd I began saving every email and snail mail that requested funds. As the pile quickly grew, the subtle thoughts I had as I opened each letter and email formed the basis for my irritation with Christmas mail.
I know that fund-raising is an art and there are professionals who give expert advice about the best approach (language, tone) and the best marketing tools (letter, email, brochure, etc.) to use. Fundraising has become very competitive because available financial resources are dwindling. Every request for support that I received appealed to my sense of “Christmas Spirit”. Most suggested that it was critical for me to give an “end of year” gift so I would receive a tax benefit. Both reasons seemed trite and neither motivated me to give. I felt a small sense of manipulation and that became an irritant.
The biggest irritant was reading mail from organizations that only contact me at Christmas. I know it’s not cost efficient to send out multiple mass mailings except during special holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. I also know that fundraising via email, though inexpensive, doesn’t really produce huge results. I had to show a little grace on this point but it still irritated me.
What caught my eye in a positive way were the organizations that published catalogs that provided listings of specific items I might wish to give. (Examples: Central Union Mission, World Vision, aone:eight) These catalogs reminded me that there is always need and I should give throughout the year. These catalogs made it easier to give out of love and obedience to Jesus (the reason for the season) because they seemed to promote relationship over cause.
Taking the time to develop an intimate relationship with an agency or organization is critical and it is key to responsible giving of time, experience/skill, and money. Such intimacy provides a better understanding of what is already available and what is truly needed (2 Corin. 8: 11-14). Such intimacy results in giving cheerfully from the heart and not out of a sense of guilt or compulsion (2 Corin. 9:7).
I’m not wealthy so I can only imagine what a wealthy philanthropist must think when Christmas mail arrives. I think I would be troubled just by the deluge of requests. I’d wonder why there is so little collaboration among the various individuals, agencies, and organizations who nobly claim to care and own the solutions that will fix the many issues, problems, and needs that face our community. I’d wonder how they can afford to continue working independently without sharing “best practices”, knowledge bases, and resources. I couldn’t help but wonder how many sources request funds for the same cause? (Example: How many agencies and organizations make the same claim that the funds you provide care for the “at risk children” in South East DC?) I’d want to give each a small financial gift of encouragement but because no one solution stood out I’d probably end up not giving anything to anyone. While I’m thankful that I’m not a wealthy philanthropist faced with such dire decisions; the mere fact that I’m not able to help so many deserving causes became one of my irritants.
The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington annually publishes a free, on-line, Emergency Directory that lists clinical social workers, counselors, psychologists, shelter workers, clergy and all those whose job it is to help people find emergency food, health care, and temporary shelter for their families. It lists hotline and social services phone numbers and sometimes e-mail addresses. A super example of collaboration without competition.
How does one collect the proper information needed to publish an on-line catalog that continuously captures input from those who’s significant ongoing efforts are trying to meet the needs of our community? Would such an initiative form an initial basis for unselfish collaboration and facilitate the sharing of best practices, knowledge, and resources? Would such an initiative provide a free, one stop online source that would empower those who wish to give financially as well as those who wish to volunteer their time and expertise?
The DC metro area already has the beginnings of such an effort; the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. There are also many free, on-line sites that help promote volunteerism.
How do we merge stated needs with available gifts and passion to create possibility that would sustain real change? Wouldn’t it be wonderful?