Cultivating Respect: Charity with the best of intentions
By Darcy Castro
Let’s talk about charity. An especially important topic, of course, as we are on the cusp of the season of giving, and just wrapped up a whole holiday dedicated to gratitude. (Yes, that’s g-r-a-t-i-t-u-d-e, not squabbling about the ethics of Black Friday or the injustices of breaking out the Christmas lights before Halloween.) Thankfulness over bread broken with ones we love, or as in this year, those in our Covid-safe bubble.
What exactly does charity mean to you, and what impact does it have on your community? How in-touch are you with the “supply chain” of charity, so to speak, when you are giving and donating? I challenge you to be charitable of course, but perhaps through a new lens and with new tactics.
Cultivating Respect starts in our own hearts, in our own homes, with an examination of our intentions. The concept of charity can easily become a self-righteous one. Lord have mercy, if I had a dollar for every social media post or local TV news story I’ve seen touting various and sundry acts of charity that are nothing more than thinly-veiled PR campaigns. I’ll be honest and say that it smacks me as disingenuous and frankly disheartening. What’s truly behind that photo opp? I pray it’s a hefty dose of good intentions wrapped up in practical, useful, wanted and necessary charity. Those on the receiving end should feel respected, knowing the charity was based in kindness and compassion, and nothing along the spectrum of self-promotion. If you must be public, aim to inspire. Because I guarantee you, not everyone is buying the façade.
I’ve worked with several non-profits over the course of my career, from burgeoning home-based, just got their IRS status organizations, to multi-million dollar charities throwing mega fundraising galas attracting big names. Philanthropy at all levels is a critical source of desperately needed revenue, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve seen my fair share of diamond-encrusted socialites buying a table at a gala to see and be seen… and plenty of charities who spend more on over-the-top administrative costs and less on research and services than most donors could stomach. Bleh. Before you write that check and claim your tax write-off, take a moment to look up a charity’s annual report and make sure you’re comfortable with their margins. And if they don’t publish their annual report, well, I’ll let you be the judge of that. (Shaking head no from stage left…)
Want to show respect for the least of these? Start with examining your own giving. If you’re participating in charity for an Instagram-worthy, filtered, pristine photo, stop right there. I challenge you to donate and give without telling anyone. Not even Facebook.
If you’re giving away all the cruddy stuff from your pantry to a food drive that you’ll never eat (think pickled beats and lima beans…), just bring that to a screeching halt and instead BUY items that are needed. Food banks usually publish lists of their most needed and typically most densely nutritious food for families in need. And I’m pretty sure that 5-year-old gift basket hot pepper jelly isn’t on the list.
But does going through closets and drawers, and donating it to the Goodwill or a shelter count? That’s a hard no. Sorry folks, but SO much of our discards don’t even make it into the hands of the less fortunate (in our own country at least) because the standards for resale or redistribution tend to weed out a lot of unusable or inappropriate items. You should still do it, but just get your reasoning’s straight. (Side note for pageant girls: Cleaning out your stuff is just that, housekeeping. It doesn’t count as an appearance. Sorry to rain on your parade, but I challenge you to seriously up your game here!)
Please, dear Lord, please, don’t think that just because someone is down on their luck they should be grateful to get your tired castoffs or dollar store socks. Those of us comfortable in our glass houses should take a moment to do a thought experiment to visualize the supply chain of charity. Unsure of who the least of these actually is in your community? Look to a reputable organization like Catholic Charities or another non-profit that is the actual boots on the actual ground, vetting those in need and working with social service agencies and reaching out to generous community volunteers just like you. When we better know the root causes of poverty and suffering in our own communities, we can be markedly more productive with our charity and good intentions. People desperately in need, even more so because of the pandemic and economic crisis, are increasingly our neighbors and loved ones. Start with visualizing them and what it would mean to meet their emergent needs.
Yes, there is a glimmer of cheer at the end of this snarky rainbow. All I’m asking here is that you do the best you can, to the best of your abilities and your means, with the best of intentions. The holiday season is a time of joy, and compassion, and love, and forgiveness, and understanding, and wonder. It is such a gift that this season’s holidays have a component of charity and kindness, and what an opportunity to not only help others but broaden our own perspectives and increase our impact. YOU have a heart of gold, so make sure you are wielding it with truth, rooted in respect for yourself and others.
Darcy Castro is a speaker, content creator and advocate for children of parents with a brain tumor. She is the founder and leader of Darcy Castro Productions LLC, the Empowerment Academy and the Kindred Heart Foundation. Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro is an initiative focused on practical ways to create respectful environments in our own little pockets of the world. The articles, podcasts and videos feature honest, thought-provoking ideas that aim to inspire and foster positive, respectful communities. Follow Cultivating Respect at DarcyCastro.com.