It’s never Christian to criticize a charity, so I won’t. Instead, my beef is with a whole bunch of them and it may not even be their fault.
I’m sick to death of getting to the checkout of a department chain or drug store and being asked if I want to donate $2 to a particular campaign. There was a time when it was a rare occurrence, but one day recently I was hit three times in three different shops in the same town.
Look, I’m all for the good these charities do. I’ve given to many of them from the privacy of my chequebook. But really, “private” is what it’s all about.
In checkout lines, especially at supermarkets, the next customer is already cuddling up to your space at the counter. I hear the person in front of me and I know the person behind me is all ears as well. Chances are we’ve already had the finest of conversations about the weather, last night’s hockey game or the price of tea and biscuits.
Now they get to hear the young cashier ask me, “Sir, would you like to add $2 to your purchase to support so and so? We’ll put your name on this piece of paper and paste it on the wall to show you gave.”
Hello? I probably only saved $2 by coming to your store in the first place, and you want me to donate my cash to the charity of your choice, so that you can go on television or in the paper and say, “This store raised X number of dollars for this cause and we are good community citizens?” Yeah, right.
The other day, I walked by a neighbourhood pharmacy and couldn’t see in the front window for all the names pasted on the glass. I thought the police urged that window space be kept free of signs and posters to dissuade armed robbers and thieves from going about their business undercover.
I know some will say, “Hey, buddy, don’t worry about it. Just say no to the clerk, and go about your day.” I guess I’m just easily embarrassed. I can probably more afford to give than the next guy, but I now refuse to “donate” at the register. My usual answer is that I’ve already done so. Saying no makes you seem like such a cheapskate or that you are heartless or just plain don’t care.
I’m not tight, but I don’t understand why Mr. Corporate Giant isn’t just dipping into a day’s sales and sharing the magic. Many of them do match the donations collected from customers, but that doesn’t make up for the sales push, or even the minor delays at the cash as someone tries to convince us to part with our savings.
Don’t bother the customers. If such-and-such a charity wants my dollars, they are already finding me in other ways. My phone rings with requests for donations; others knock on my door.
We live in an era of professional fundraisers and many of them are creative; they know how to get me to give and to make me feel like I enjoy doing so. Seriously, though, these year-round department store money-grabs, stepping on each other as the cause of the month, are a little much.
The Salvation Army has it right. They set up their bowl at Christmas time and don’t try to sell you anything. The person minding the kettle may offer a smile, but it’s at the door, not the checkout.
Going to the supermarket these days is almost akin to going to the dentist. You know it will hurt, and in more than just one place.
If a charity wants my money, they won’t get it there. The grocer, pharmacist or chain owner already has first dibs with the prices I pay for my products. Those prices are steep enough.
I don’t have a problem with charities asking for a contribution. It’s the where and the when.
Talk to me privately. I’ll give you what I can.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.