Nina Smith

WWYD: Sponsoring Friends in Charity Events

Filed By Nina Smith | October 22, 2007 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: giving, personal finances

“A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.” – Ralph Nader

At Queercents, we run a weekly series about financial ethics called What Would You Do? Here's one that asks your views on charitable giving.

I’ve sponsored several friends over the years to pedal in the AIDS Ride or walk for Breast Cancer. A few more than once. They’ve all been gracious in the way they have asked for sponsorship and then thankful upon receiving my donation. I’ve always been happy to give and I’ve typically never been asked more than once a year.

When I was reading the Do The Right Thing column in Money magazine, Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz offered their view about a friend asking repeatedly if you’ll sponsor them in their charity walk, ride or run.

Here’s the question from one of their readers:

When I told my new neighbor I was participating in a triathlon to raise money for a charity, he volunteered to send in a check for $50. I was very appreciative at the time. But since then, he’s asked me to support him in three different runs for worthy causes. I’ve said yes each time, but this is starting to get expensive. At what point can I say no, and what should I tell him?

Their answer:

Here’s what you do: The next time your neighbor asks you for money, tell him that you wish him well, but unfortunately you can’t help out this time. And keep telling him that until he gives up.

Then they go on to suggest that as a general rule we shouldn’t be soliciting others for donations. Bottom line: don’t ask!

But that seems a bit harsh… doesn’t it? Or not? I’ve worked remotely from home for almost ten years, but when I did work in an office, I remember the constant stream of requests from co-workers and their children. Girl Scout cookies, gift wrap, you name it. People were always peddling something for a cause.

Fleming and Schwarz continue with their advice:

Americans are by and large an unusually charitable people. But most of us prefer to devote the lion’s share of our charitable giving budget to the causes that matter to us, not the ones that interest our neighbors. So when you ask someone to support you in an event like the triathlon or to buy a box of candy to help fund your child’s class trip, you’re asking them to put their friendship with you ahead of their own favorite charities. That’s asking for a substantial favor - a favor that shouldn’t be sought lightly or, as your neighbor has, repeatedly.

So a few questions: Is the request to buy a box of candy for five bucks different than the $200 wanted for the AIDS Ride? And if you don’t want to give, then how do you say no? Do you feel comfortable asking family members but not friends or co-workers? Or is the entire concept of “sponsorship” just plain weird and this type of charitable giving needs a remodel? And what about those repeat offenders… I’m mean really, how many times is that lesbian going to run a marathon? And if more than once or twice, shouldn’t she pony up the few grand that’s required to participate. After all, it’s her cause and she’s the one running.

So WWYD? (Jesus is free to comment too!)

Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.

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I have a few thoughts. First, unless it's something I really truly believe in, I won't give. I give my money to the charities I believe in and want to support. I only have so much money to go around. Second, I won't fund someone so they can go to Hawaii to run a race. If I wanted to donate to that charity, I would. But not so someone can lay on the beach after the race while I sit up here in the snow and cold. Uh uh. It's not as if I don't donate at all. Believe me, what I have gets donated. So I don't feel guilty not contributing to all of these causes, no matter how worthy my friends and neighbors might think they are. I just donate in my own way.

Annette: I feel the same way about people going on these nice "vacations" as part of the charity race.

Here's another question: "How do I say 'no' politely?" Perhaps saying 'no' for some is easy, but for me saying 'no' in a polite way is more of a challenge.

I do give reasonable but not large amounts, for varying reasons but usually because I want to foster community and endorse people's efforts to do good--and most of the time they're causes that I support as well. I don't often buy Girl Scout cookies at the office, but I do contribute to the neighbor kid's school fundraisers (partly because I don't want to be thought of as "that rich lesbian b*tch down the street").

If I were to do one of those major events where travel costs were built into the fundraising commitment, I'd donate enough to cover my own travel and say so in my appeal. I also hesitate to ask friends, colleagues, and family to financially support a personal accomplishment (like completing a marathon) in the guise of raising money for a good cause.

On the other hand, I'd like to think that if I did ask, all the donations I've made over the years would be responded to in kind.

I usually just say, "I can't afford that right now." That quickly ends the conversation. :)

Becca: You make some really great points and I contribute to the school fundraisers when presented by a kid in our neighborhood for exactly the same reason!

Bil: That's usually my reply when a charity solicits me by phone, but I find it difficult to use this with friends since they see how we spend money. I usually feel guilted into giving and then I have to worry about: is it enough? will they think I'm being stingy? All around -- giving or not giving -- creates an awkward situation.