How to Give Till It Hurts Without Killing Yourself

Remember the ice bucket challenge?

It was a brutal tidal wave on social media of people dumping freezing cold water (or lukewarm marinara, depending on who you are and what your threshold for both pain and humor are) over their heads, all for a good cause (ALS).

In a move that I’m sure made me tremendously unpopular, I refused to take the ice bucket challenge bait.

It’s not because I’m not charitable or didn’t want to help fund a good cause, because I am and I do.

Thing is, I’ve been training to survive charitable fundraising stunts for well over a decade now, and I’ve got a few strategies to help you emerge from even the most intense times, including back to school, new sports teams, and general world crises (natural disasters, war, diseases, drought, etc.) I hate to toss the causes all in the same bucket (pun intended!), but the steady stream that’s pulled from your wallet, particularly through your children, is enough to make anyone’s heart turn to ice. 

So here are a few thoughts on how to give till it hurts… without killing yourself:

1) Spread the wealth: Just know that there are certain times of the year (like September and October), when you will be bombarded by urgent contribution asks. Instead of just throwing it down in a lump, think through what really has to happen when. If it’s an annual donation, you can pay it out over time in much smaller monthly installments, or all at once later in the year when you have less good causes knocking on your door.

2) Make deals with your friends: How many times have you ended up writing a big, phat check to cover what your kid hasn’t sold in cookie dough, wrapping paper, magazines, or other fundraising-ready yet completely annoying commodities? For me, the answer is every single time — which means I routinely have a freezer full of giant tubs of cookie dough, a closet stuffed with wrapping paper, and a stack of unread, unwanted magazines. This year, I’ve decided that for any friend who supports my kid now, I will support his/her kid for the fundraising task. I’d rather write a few checks for $20 a pop over time versus a $200 check in one fell swoop. And if you do the math, I’ll bet you’ll end up spending less while looking like a damn hero to your friends and their kids that are trying to “win” a $2 “prize” by selling $800 worth of goods.

3) Re-gifting is acceptable AND tax deductible: Back to the cookie dough — rather than ending up with a fat ass and an empty wallet, this year I’m going to donate the cookie dough and other food stuffs (i.e., Girl Scout cookies) to a local food bank. If you itemize what you give and the organization you give to is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, then you can write it off and feel good about paying it forward. (For more on this, check out what TurboTax sez.)

4) Decide what you value more now — time or money: This is a question I ask myself at the beginning of all fundraising seasons. Regardless of how old my kids are they still need my help when it comes to casing the neighborhood, setting up booths, or generally asking for donations. Out of laziness, I normally just write the check, but this fall, we’re doing some remodeling. And so, I am sitting down with my husband and strategizing how we can get our kids to their mandatory fundraising goals. (Working that shit out is where this blog post came from, for example.)

5) Never volunteer for event committees: This sounds harsh, but as a former event planner, I can tell you that pulling off fundraisers costs money. And whose pocket do the Dead Presidents normally come from? That’s right — the people planning the event. Now, I know you think you can get reimbursed for things and maybe you can BUT I guarantee you’ll be the one closing the silent auction, hanging out with the vendors at the end of the holiday crafts fair, or cleaning up the carnival. And when you do, you’ll end up buying whatever’s left.

6) Just say no: Yes, you can… C’mon, say it with me. NO. If I can be the only asshole in the world to not accept the ice bucket challenge, then you can say no to hosting a car wash, whipping up 19 trays of brownies for the bake sale, selling massive tins of popcorn that stain fingers and clog arteries, or writing a check that’s bigger than your mortgage, just because you’re asked.

This is not to say that supporting good causes is not important, but sometimes it is also the last straw when it comes to your financial health and sanity. Setting limits and not participating in every fundraiser that comes your way doesn’t make you an ice prince or princess; just a mere mortal with reasonable limitations.

So if you see me snacking from a giant tub of raw cookie dough that I have hidden in my purse, just know that I’m always strategizing about the best way to make fundraising work in my daily life. Charity doesn’t have to make your home life a living Hell, even if it does begin there.

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