Category Archives: charities

How about Thanks AND Giving?

I was scanning the aisles at Trader Joe’s when I noticed one of its 99-cent greeting cards.

The message caught my eye:  “Let our lives be full of BOTH Thanks & Giving.”

It struck me as the perfect card for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I grabbed it and carried it off with the rest of my purchases, planning to bestow it on a loved one at our annual feast.

But while the card patiently awaits its presentation on the holiday, the message has stayed with me.  What better sentiment to express at this time of year?

Just when Thanksgiving is on our minds, we’re inundated by pleas for money from a variety of causes.  At the same time, we want to give holiday presents to loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.

My proposal:  Let’s focus on both giving thanks and just plain giving.

So, as we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this week, I’m keeping both in mind.

First, let’s give thanks for all of the good things in our lives.  If you have any of the following, you’re lucky indeed and should feel grateful:  Loving family, good health, caring friends, cheerful acquaintances, some degree of success in your profession or work of any kind, and achievement of (or progress toward) whatever goals you may have.

Next, if you’re financially able to assist a good cause (or many), this is a splendid time of year to send them gifts.  For most charitable and other good causes, a monetary gift in almost any amount is welcome.  So please think about opening your wallet, your checkbook, or your online ability to send funds, and make a gift to show that you support these groups.

You can also scour your home and donate usable items you no longer need to worthy groups that will pass them on to others.

Finally, giving presents to those you love and care about may also be important to you.  But try to keep the health of our planet in mind when you choose those gifts.

Good karma will come to you.  Or so I like to think.




Reunion-worthy clothes: A follow-up

In my last post, I described my new strategy for purchasing clothes:  I ask myself whether they’re reunion-worthy.

I adopted this strategy for the first time before a class reunion a few years ago. Pondering what to wear to the reunion, I decided to no longer fill my closets with clothes I wouldn’t wear to an event like a reunion, where I wanted to look my absolute best.

Recently, when another class reunion loomed, the issue was once again front and center.

Now that (more recent) reunion has come and gone, and my strategy proved to be a huge success.  When I packed for my flight to Reunion City, USA, I selected only reunion-worthy clothes to wear during the reunion weekend.  And I think I accomplished my goal.

In photos taken during that weekend, I look simply smashing.

Now let’s focus on another question:  What about those duds you and I still own that are NOT reunion-worthy?

I have two suggestions.  My hope is that you’ll adopt your own version of one or both of them.

  1. Donate non-reunion-worthy clothes to charity.

I have a longstanding policy of donating to charity those clothes I’m no longer wearing.  I  donate still-attractive and wearable items of clothes (as well as shoes, costume jewelry, household items, books, and a whole host of miscellaneous stuff).

I prefer two nearby charities.  One favorite is Goodwill.  This is a venerable charity organization that channels clothing and other items by selling them in their stores to those who want to acquire these items at rock-bottom prices.  Goodwill also plays another role:  It will happily take possession of almost any electronic device you no longer find useful.  It apparently hires people who know how to extract usable parts from these devices, working or not, and repurpose them for the greater good of humankind.  Bravo!

My other favorite charity?  The Discovery Shops that dot the landscape in the Bay Area.  Discovery Shops are attractive stores filled with beautiful things donated by people who decide to pass them along to others and, at the same time, support an important goal.   Because Discovery Shops are affiliated with the American Cancer Society, the money raised in their shops supports research aimed at defeating the scourge of cancer.  I donate to Discovery Shops the most desirable items I no longer wish to keep but sincerely believe would enhance someone else’s wardrobe or home.  Passing them along this way makes me feel great.

  1. Create a “jettison pile.”

Some years ago I created what I call my “jettison pile.”

My jettison pile serves a valuable purpose, a purpose that benefits not only me but others as well.  The end result resembles donating to charity, but in practice it operates somewhat differently.

First, I periodically review my wardrobe and set aside clothing that has become less and less useful to me.  These are usually clothes that are somewhat ill-fitting or no longer suit my lifestyle but are okay to wear one more time when I’m traveling.  I’ll add clothes like these to the jettison pile, and next time I prepare for a trip, I’ll throw some of them into my suitcase.

Then, when I arrive at a destination, I jettison them.

I often jettison them as I depart from a hotel room.  I’ll leave them in a neat stack for the cleaning staff with a note that clearly states something like the following:  “These items are for you if you want them.  I no longer need them.”

In a foreign country where I know the basics of the language, I’ll try to write my note in that language.  If I don’t know the language, I’ll ask English-speaking staff at the front desk to help me write my message.

Jettisoning clothes (and sometimes other small items, like an extra flashlight) serves a double purpose.  I’m leaving things for cleaning-staff people who may be able to use them, or who know someone else who can use them.  (Of course, they have the option of dumping my stuff in the trash.)

I benefit as well.   When I leave these things behind, I make room in my suitcase for new things I acquire during my trip, like souvenir t-shirts or books about local sites or……well, you get the idea.

On a recent river cruise, a young woman from a not-very-prosperous country was assigned to clean my cabin.  I’d prepared for the cruise by bringing very nice but no-longer-wanted-by-me tops, pants, skirts, nightgowns, and miscellaneous stuff.  When the cruise ended, I left my cleaning woman two shopping bags full of things she could either use herself or pass along to her family and friends.  And I now had newly freed-up space in my cases for things I’d acquired during the trip.

Passing things along this way seems to be another good choice.

Please decide what works best for you.  Just remember to make choices that bring you joy!


Hey There, Handsome!

Hey, handsome!  You know who you are.  You’re a charitable donor to at least one worthy cause you support.

Say what? 

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Arthur C. Brooks, the head of a nonprofit organization, accumulated a wealth of data to support the conclusion that giving to charity makes us happier, healthier, and yes, even better-looking.

First, according to one study cited by Brooks, happiness and giving are strongly correlated.  A survey by the University of Chicago showed that charitable givers are 43% more likely to say they are “very happy” than non-givers.  By contrast, non-givers are 3.5 times more likely to say they are “not happy at all.”  Wow!

But is it really charitable giving that makes us happier, or is it the reverse?  Another study provided one answer.  Researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia found that the amount of money subjects spent on themselves was “inconsequential for happiness,” but spending on others resulted in significant gains in happiness. 

In another study, University of Oregon researchers asked people to divide $100 between a food pantry and their own wallets.  The researchers used a brain-scanner to see what happened.  It turned out that choosing the charitable option lighted up the brain’s center of pleasure and reward, the same center that lights up because of pleasurable music, addictive drugs, and a mother’s bond with her children.

Are we also healthier when we act in a charitable way?  Brooks cited several studies that say we are.  A University of Buffalo psychologist recently studied more than 800 residents of Detroit and found that volunteering for a charity significantly lowered the association between stressful life-events and death. 

Two studies conducted in California lent further support to this notion.  When researchers at Stanford and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging tracked nearly 2000 older Americans over a nine-year period, they found that the dedicated volunteers in the group were 56% more likely to have survived all nine years than non-volunteers who started out in identical health.  A study of teenagers yielded even more support.  In 2008, the University of California reported that altruistic teenagers were physically and mentally healthier later in their lives than their less generous peers.

And now we get to our most intriguing question:  Does being charitable do anything for the way you look?  Dutch and British researchers recently showed women college students one of three videos featuring the same good-looking actor.  In the first video, he gave generously to a man begging on the street.  In the second, he appeared to give only a little money.  In the third, the actor gave nothing to the panhandler.  The result? The more he gave, the more handsome he appeared to the women in the study.

Brooks concluded that this finding explains why men loosen their wallets in an attempt to impress women.  And he uncovered one more study to support his conclusion.  A 1999 experiment conducted by the University of Liverpool showed that “eager men” on first dates gave significantly more to a panhandler than men who were already in comfortable long-term relationships.

In short, giving generously to the causes we support really does appear to boost our well-being and our esteem—even our appearance–in the eyes of others.  Although I have reservations about some of the techniques used by charities to pry money from us (see “Why Am I Suddenly a Member?” found elsewhere on this blog), I wholeheartedly support charitable giving and volunteering on behalf of worthy causes. 

The charitable men in my life have always looked good to me, and as I’ve gotten older, I find they’re looking better and better.

As for me, in addition to my feeling good about giving, I now know that it helps me look good, too.

That reminds me…where’s my checkbook?



Why Am I Suddenly a “Member”?

When did I become a member of groups I never knowingly joined?

Maybe I’m mistaken, but I always thought the word “member” meant that one had purposefully joined a club or similar entity.  Joining such a group can be a good idea.  For example, membership in a social club offers a range of pleasant benefits, like golf, swimming, or dining in an exclusive setting.

Being a member of a professional organization generally offers career-oriented perks, along with help climbing a possibly shaky ladder to professional success.  And then there’s membership in a political party, which has always meant sharing an outlook (more or less) on public policy.

But now it seems that my charitable instincts have turned me into a “member” of a host of other groups.  Charities to which I’ve donated a few stray bucks have anointed me as a member, and they are now pursuing me to “renew” my membership!

Jeez, I didn’t realize that when I sent Charity X a small donation I would suddenly become a “member” of that admirable group.  But apparently I did because here’s an envelope it recently sent me, announcing that there are “10 reasons to renew [my] membership”!

The X Foundation, another commendable organization to which I’ve donated a small sum on occasion, has now written me to ask for more.  The shocker is the envelope’s threat that this is my “final renewal notice” this year.  But please tell me, folks, when exactly did I join in the first place?

Yes, I’m a softie, and I have perhaps foolishly sent dribs-and-drabs donations to a wide array of worthy groups that tug at my heart.  But please let me know, Charities A, B, and C, why that constitutes “membership” in your organization?  Yes, you do such wonderful work on behalf of people with diabetes, cancer, or blindness.  But seriously, all I did was send you a check or two.  Yet now you’ve sent me a “renewal reminder.”

Some of these groups have even issued “membership cards,” complete with member numbers.  And a few have gone over the edge and sent me membership “statements” that strongly resemble bills.  I just got one in today’s mail.  C’mon, people!  Do you think that scares me into sitting down and writing you a check?

Truthfully, I resent being lumped into the category of “member” by groups like these, with which I have no real connection other than a desire to add a small amount to their coffers.  Being threatened with a “final renewal reminder” doesn’t induce me to respond.  On the contrary, it makes me wonder about the professional fundraisers these groups have hired.  Do their ominous reminders work on anyone?  They certainly don’t work on me.  Instead of loosening my purse strings, they encourage me to tighten them.  The threatening envelopes get tossed into my recycling more often than not.

All this tossing makes me think hard about the charitable world today.   For one thing, I’ve been warned about an insidious trend.  It appears that if you donate only a small amount, charities tend to sell your name to other groups, so you can then be hounded by ten or twelve charities instead of just one.  “Your name is worth more to these charities than the $25 you give them,” a friend confided.  If that’s true, it simply compounds the problem.  And it seems to account for the plethora of solicitations I find in my overstuffed mailbox every day.

While I’m at it, I’ll go further and denounce some of the other tactics these groups employ.  Even those that don’t call me a “member” are guilty of some pretty odious practices.  First, I am now the recipient of endless “free gifts.”  The proliferation of address labels has gotten totally out of hand.

My daily mail includes countless address labels from groups I’ve never even heard of.  I’ve received enough of these labels to last at least two more lifetimes, and that’s assuming I never move from my current address.  Other freebies include ballpoint pens, note pads, greeting cards, and calendars, many more than I can ever use (and many so unappealing that I never would use them).  Most of these freebies end up in one of my charity donation bags (one hand washes the other?) or, even worse, the trash, adding to our overflowing landfills and our overburdened recycling centers.

Honestly, I’d much prefer that these groups (who are clearly playing the “guilt” card) spend my cash quite differently.  Hey, folks, please use that money to search for a cure, actively fight racism, directly lift women out of poverty.  Note pads and calendars?  I can buy those myself.

Some of us have gotten wise to this endless pursuit of donations. Internet websites can now tell us just how efficiently most charities are run.  For example, Charity Navigator evaluates charities, distinguishing among them by giving four stars to those that operate efficiently, while giving only one or two stars to the charities that spend too much of their revenue on fundraising and other administrative costs.  This kind of ranking may not be perfect, but it’s helped me weed out some of the groups I used to support.  If enough of us did that, we might have an impact on their most deplorable tactics.

The solution for me may be to become more selective.  Instead of making small donations to a wide range of worthy groups, I may focus on a handful of them and send a larger check to each.  But I fear that my name may stay on the same old mailing lists ad infinitum, adding pounds and pounds to recycling as I continue to toss.  I’ve recently started sending back some solicitation forms, demanding that my name be removed from these lists, but so far I haven’t tracked whether that approach has done any good. I truthfully doubt that it has.

This blizzard of charity solicitations has to stop.  Where I once was charitable, I am now more likely to be hostile, vowing never to contribute a dime to most of the charities that pursue me with such zeal.

Don’t these groups realize that they’ve literally reached a point of no return?

[A version of this commentary previously appeared as an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.]