Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charming Charities

Every day, immediately after getting out of the car from work, I head to the mailbox.  Getting mail excites me, which is odd, considering it’s mainly bills or credit card solicitations (or god forbid, my 401(k) statement which I refuse to open), but nevertheless, my daily ritual never wavers.  I love picking through the mail and thumbing through catalogs (I still have no idea how I got on the Restoration Hardware mailing list since I will never, ever spend $48 on a bathroom knob). 

This week I received a Pepto pink envelope hand-addressed to me.  I couldn’t place the sender until I saw their address: one number off ours, on our street.  It was from our neighbors, a friendly couple we barely see in their sixties who chat about their past dogs and grandchildren on the rare instance our paths cross when we’re out walking Penny.  They were soliciting donations for a cancer society I never heard of, touting the benefits of healthy eating to cure and prevent cancer.  (Which is insulting enough: sure, I bet environment may have a bit to do with it, but it just reeked of misinformation).  The letter, typed from the charity, exclaimed even ten dollars would help (but thirty would be much better) and in our neighbor’s scroll, he (or she) wrote, “Anything would help!  Thank you so much!”  Thank you, indeed.

I thrust the letter into Matt’s hand and said, “You gotta see this!”  Since Matt is ever the diplomat, he simply arched his eyebrow and said, “Yeah, that’s odd.”  First off, we have spoken to this neighbor maybe five times since we moved to the neighborhood over four years ago.  I’m baffled how they even remembered my name (first and last), and how they knew how to spell it.  Katherine.  Catherine.  See?  It’s a moniker that goes by several spellings (“Kathryn” being the best obviously).   They don’t attend the neighborhood get-togethers but I’m suspecting they got their mitts on the list, which details the names and addresses of those who attend.

Here is my problem with this: we do not know them and they are soliciting money from neighbors (whom they do not speak to) for a questionable organization.  This is the kicker: You are not asked to return your check to the organization themselves, but to the neighbors.  You know, just so they can see how worthy you are.    Give $10 and you’re cheap and obviously care not one iota about cancer research.  Give $50 and you’re worthy (and a sucker in my book).  Obviously, $10 is nominal (even though they should think we’re cash-strapped given the state of our yard).  I just found the whole scenario obnoxious: this charity relies on the societal pressures of neighborly relations to get their dough, and pries on the trust of those neighbors: “Well, if Susie is collecting money, it must be for a good cause.” 

Since I like to make a big deal out of everything, I decided to Google the organization.  They take in about 33 million a year, and after mailings and executive salaries they donate (drum role please) less than 2 million annually.  They have the lowest score on several business bureau websites and rely on robo-calls and neighborhood mailing kits.  They do not perform any research themselves, and do not disclose exactly what happens to the cash they do give away.  Their CEO makes just south of $500,000 as does their executive board.  Simply put, this is no American Cancer Society.

Since I’m not one to shy away from voicing my opinion (see: me giving the asshole who went through our neighborhood at 60 mph the middle finger yesterday) I thought I’d write the neighbors a letter.  A really nice letter.  Really.  If Matt saw this he’d be horrified.

I already imagined this letter.  It would be something along the lines of, “Dear Dick and Mary: I hope you are well! I had the pleasure of receiving your donation form for (insert scumbag faux-charity) last week.  Although Matt and I full-heartedly support funding for cancer research, we donate to a select handful of charities per year that are close to our hearts (this is pretty true although there is no fund for poor game developers I’m aware of on Matt’s behalf).  To learn more about the scumbag faux-charity I did do some research to be better informed.  I was a bit concerned that they received several low ratings on philanthropy watch-dog groups and much of their revenue doesn’t go to research.  At this time we’ll have to decline.  (Now I would add a sweet send-off.)  Thank you again and I hope you’re enjoying the summer with your grandchildren and the memory of those dead dogs you always talk about!  Warm Regards, Kathryn and Matt”

I think that about says it.

I am not truly a charity curmudgeon.  Each month a donation is charged automatically to my credit card from the ASPCA.  I give yearly to Philabundance, a Philadelphia-based non-profit to eradicate hunger.  I donate to the CCFA (of course) and Planned Parenthood.  Oh, which brings up something else.  Shall we?

I love Planned Parenthood.  Who isn’t for women’s health?  (Well, except male Republicans.)  But I’m come to an impasse with them.  Planned Parenthood plants workers on street corners in Center City, Philadelphia soliciting donations.  There are a lot of organizations that do this.  I find this sort of guerilla donation-seeking jarring, but nonetheless, I stopped to chat with one of their people.  I am always cornered on the street.  I feel it’s because of my size.  I’m like a buck to your doe.  They see me from afar, big and somewhat friendly looking.  Fresh meat!  I’m also a woman, and how many men do you see stop?  Also, because I’m not a total scmuck, I often make eye contact when spoken to.  Because of this, I’m an idiot.

This guy told me about the state of women’s rights in this country (dire) and how Congress is stripping away rights (duh) and how abortions aren’t even funded with federal money (duh part deux).  He was preachy and snide so I replied with, “Yeah; I have a modicum of intelligence and read the news.”  I’m a peach.  This is when it went all downhill.  He pressured me into signing up for a repeat donation deducted from my credit card each month.  I told him I already donate (true; on a much less generous basis though) and I do not sign-up for things on the street.  He said I didn’t care about women’s health.  I told him what does he know, it’s not like he has access to my financials and he sure as hell doesn’t have a vagina.  Okay, that’s a lie.  I just told him I already donate but I appreciated the information he provided.  I really wish I said the vagina thing, though.  I told him I’d look into it more at home.  He said 99% of people who say that never follow through.  I told him I’m sure that’s the case, but I’m not 99% of people (lies: I was totally not going to look anything up, but I had to keep up appearances).  He snorted.  He said a few snide remarks.  I told him he just lowered my impression of Planned Parenthood and wasn’t that a pity.  Then I walked away as he shouted something, but my earphones were already back on at that point. 

Today Amnesty International was canvassing Chestnut Street.  Several of their people were stationed outside of Sephora, the luxe make-up and fragrance emporium.  I thought it was a smart move.  I mean, only women visit Sephora and perhaps Amnesty International feels these girls will want to make amends for the $25 mascara and $80 face cream they just purchased.  It’s like those carbon neutral thingamabobs a la Al Gore.  Sure he jets around the world and lives in a mansion, but he OFF-SETS it, darn it!  (I mean this in half-jest: I like Al, even though he has the worst teeth imaginable.  Have you seen them?!) 

I know these are tough times for charities, but there has to be a more charitable way of doing things. 

So, that brings us round-circle to Dick and Mary and the American Institute for Cancer Research (aka scumbag faux-charity).  I don’t think I’ll really write a letter seeing as we’re not moving anytime soon and I don’t want to horrify poor Matt, who often has to deal with my ranting and raving.  I’m much more prone to take the cowardly way out: pretend I never received anything.  Never mention it.  And, like a seasoned woman of the streets, never look them in the eye again.

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