By Lynn Ashby
Just slip this little envelope into the mail slot and leave. They’ll never know who did it. When they cash the check they’ll…oops. Come to think of it, I paid by check rather than cash. That blows my cover.
This is my predicament and probably yours, too. The other day in my mailbox was an envelope with my name hand-written on it. No stamp, no return address. Upon opening the envelope I saw a small card asking me to donate to the Save the Scorpions. OK, no doubt a worthwhile charity. But rather than asking me to send my cheap contribution to the national HQ in some far-off city, as is the tradition, I was to put the donation in the enclosed envelope and – get this – give it to my next-door neighbor! The enclosed envelope awaiting my money had a label, with my neighbor’s name and address, stuck to the front.
This good-pences-make-good-neighbors device for charity funds has happened to me before. I think it was the Veterans of Domestic Wars which wanted a contribution. Although I didn’t know there were any aged Yankee or Rebel vets still around, I started to send them some Confederate dollars. But the request was that I stuff the envelope full of U.S. currency and drop it by a neighbor’s house.
The scheme is really sneaky, but, to be fair, quite effective. Soliciting money for charities or even non-profits is based on both guilt and the chance that your neighbors will discover just how cheap you are. If, say, you get a request from Drunk Drivers Against Mothers, you may — or, more probably, may not — send that group a check. Who’d know? But when a neighbor asks for the donation, and you turn down the request, your reprehensible behavior will soon become knowledge at the local swimming pool, adult bookstore or tattoo parlor.
It is not clear just how a charity selects the block warden, but it shouldn’t be too hard to convince the snitch. “You just open all these envelopes and find out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Then what you do with this info is, hee-hee, up to you. And, of course, you yourself don’t have to give a cent. Who’ll know?”
How often do you receive solicitation mail from a charity, or a non-profit? If you kept a year’s worth of those requests, it might stagger you. I think they must trade mailing lists because I do not personally know any members of SOS (Save Our Smog) nor have I ever donated to Rodeo Clown History Month.
Some fund drives are not cost effective. For example, I give to the local public TV and radio stations, known to some as PBS and Radio Moscow. But they keep after me to donate even more. They eventually spend more on me than I give. Look, take the money and use it to produce “Sesame Street” or pay Jim Lehrer, but stop spending it on me.
Outside of these legitimate charity fund-raisers are the scams. Police benevolent leagues and state troopers’ funds use soliciting phone calls, especially before Christmas. The first clue to these con artists is their background noise, which is the sound of dozens of others reading from the same boiler room come-on. It’s a racket, in two of the meanings (tennis being the third).
Some charity organizations are lethal. Ever heard of the Holy Land Foundation in Richardson, Texas? It was once the biggest Muslim charity in the nation until it was found to be channeling $12 million to Hamas. Last May a Texas court sentenced the two top leaders to 65 years in prison, and three others to lesser sentences.
Guilt is a good way to hit us up for donations. How many self-addressed letter stickers have you received in the past year? The charity or whatever has sent us a gift and we are supposed to reciprocate. Indeed, I’d bet anything the sticker on that return envelope given to me came from Friends of Fungus. I’ve got a drawer full of these stickers. The Texas Exes are especially generous in giving me Longhorn stickers, but the UT System has a $15.2 billion endowment (down 15 percent in a year) and doesn’t need my most generous $5 donation.
Another excellent way to drum up funds is fear. Experts note that people will give to solve health problems which they fear may harm them. Thus money drives for cancer, hookworm and the heartbreak of psoriasis work the fear factor. But not too many among us fear leprosy. Do you think Jerry Lewis’s muscular dystrophy telethon could raise the tens of millions of dollars each year if Lewis was pushing funds to cure, say, scurvy or terminal gout?
Playing the fear card is a classic move in government, too. Local officials warn that, due to a budget shortfall, funds will be cut for the police, firefighters and EMS. The frightened taxpayers shout, “Cut something else!” That’s why we slash funds to parks and libraries, instead. FDR noted, “We have nothing to fear but (pregnant pause for effect) fear itself.” Members of Congress know their constituents will support any bill, no matter the cost in cash, liberties or common sense, if their security is involved. Just warn them of “another 9/11!” and you’ve got their support.
Incidentally, speaking of Washington and charities, President Obama briefly proposed cutting back on tax donations to charities. It died for lack of a second. Also, note that every year our President and Vice President, whomever they are, release their income tax reports. Then their political enemies swoop in on the leaders’ charity contributions. That’s fine, but wouldn’t you love to know how much their critics give? Seems only fair.
So should I reject this neighborly guilt trip? “Charity begins at home,” Terence, a Roman comic dramatist, famously said. Actually, charity begins at the home next door to your home.
Ashby donates at email@example.com