Choosing Between Charities

When my dog Simba got cancer I joked to my sister, “I just knew he had our genes!” Making light of the fact that a profound number of my family members have had cancer is how I tend to cope with this knowledge. With my family, I’m talking about all kinds of cancer, from breast cancer to brain cancer to pancreatic cancer, we’ve seen it all. It’s no wonder then that cancer research is rather high up on my priority list of causes to donate to.

The trouble is that there are many cancer research organizations to choose from. There’s the Jimmy Fund, the Tommy Fund, Susan G. Komen, Lustgarten Foundation, American Cancer Society, and Stand Up 2 Cancer, just to name a few. The field is endless and sometimes choosing where you want your money to go is so daunting that you just pass on giving altogether.


Has that ever happened to you? The same way this happens to me when I’m shopping for new clothes, when I can’t choose which organization gets the most bang for my buck, I give up and walk away. Here’s my analogy. I’m at the Gap shopping for a new winter jacket when I find myself going back and forth between two choices: One jacket is navy blue, cropped just below the hips, and made of a synthetic puffy material, the other camel colored, hits just above my knees, and made of wool. Both cost about the same. And so my due diligence begins. Both jackets fall into the category of winter jacket, and both are really appealing to me right now. But how do I know the synthetic cropped jacket will keep me warm on the days it gets freezing cold? On the other hand, even though the camel wool coat will keep me warm, wool makes me pretty itchy and I may realize in a few weeks that I don’t like what I’m getting from this coat. So then it comes down to which looks the best on me, and I get frustrated knowing that the camel coat is more on-trend and will make me very happy in the short term, for this winter season, but the synthetic navy jacket will likely be in style for years to come and will therefore have a longer impact on my life. So what do I do? I simply walk away. I decide to wait until I find the perfect jacket. Problem with that is, the perfect winter coat never comes along. In fact, it doesn’t exist. And so I am left with no winter coat, feeling both unstylish and very cold.

That may have seemed like a major tangent but I promise, the analogy has a point. When researching charities you will inevitably find yourself with similar questions and road blocks. While one cancer foundation has proven results in short-term impact, you’ll wonder if it may be better to invest in the one that has proven long-term sustainability. Then there will be the cancer foundation that is very “in,” and when you see all your friends donating to them, or watching their telethon featuring Taylor Swift, you’ll surely be tempted to send them your money as well. The trouble is that just because something is trendy, it doesn’t mean that it’s quality. This trendy cancer foundation may in fact be making huge strides in cancer research, but Taylor Swift’s voucher shouldn’t be what sways you to donate. In a year, after all, Tay Swift will undoubtedly be a spokesperson for yet a different foundation. And so you find yourself at a roadblock.

The only answer I have for you is to not do what I do when I go shopping. Don’t give up and walk away, waiting for that perfect charity to come your way. There is no such thing as a perfect charity. Every non-profit will have its hallmarks and its pitfalls, and each will have a different method of achieving its mission. Just pick one. Do your research, and if in the end you still can’t decide, just go ahead and go with your gut. It’s better to donate to the slightly less-effective charity than to not donate at all. And don’t feel too bad if Tay Swift’s song is what, in the end, convinces you. It happens to even the best of us.

1 comment
  1. The funny thing about deciding on that charity is that most of us tend to continue giving to that initial decision, and if and until we are presented with solid proof that they’re doing a really bad job, we keep on giving. Really. All of us do it. And once in a blue moon, no more often, there is international proof plastered across the media of how that wonderful charity really is evil. Even though they’re not evil, and maybe just messed up or made an impossibly stupid PR gaffe. Or you find out that they actually support corporal punishment of misbehaving wives or child slavery, and then you have to publicly boycott them, and that’s troublesome. But since the first charity so many give to is their alma mater, usually a safe bet, it’s a fine way to get started! (And if Tay were one of your classmates, think of the potentially fabulous reunions you could have at the Grand Ole Opry…) Thanks Mol!

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