Gilchrist: Choosing the right charity to support

Tracy Gilchrist / Kamloops Daily News
November 9, 2012 01:00 AM

My folks arrive this weekend, one of a few precious yearly visits now that we live nine hours apart.

I'm looking forward to our time but am also feeling guilty that my highly organized (and retired) stepmother will leave Christmas gifts behind and I haven't even thought about it.

It raises the broader issue of whether any of us at this stage in life - we really don't need anything - should be buying stuff for each other just because it's what we've always done.

It's a reminder we have so much while others don't. I vow again to address the subject earlier next year. I'd prefer to see us all (kids excepted) donate to charity in lieu of gifts but never manage to broach the idea early enough.

On another note, it can be tough to decide which non-profit agency to support.

On a whim last year, my husband donated to a local organization that does great things in the community.

Since then, we've been inundated with their mailouts asking for more money and it has become a source of annoyance. I do understand the need for charities to undertake such annual campaigns - I sat on the board of a hospital/health foundation for years - but I feel like we're being punished for donating.

Suffice it to say, we'll be glad when the mail redirect from our former address runs out and we stop getting the solicitations.

There are several points to consider when choosing a cause to support beyond the obvious of what good works it does in the community.

Are its values aligned with yours? Does it address a societal need but has an underlying agenda of, say, converting people to a certain religious faith?

What are its management costs? Yes, it takes money to make money but a rule of thumb is to think twice about donating to any group that spends over 40 per cent on administration costs. This is information that credible charities will be happy to provide, along with their audited year-end financial statements.

On Tuesday, I joined a dozen or so business people on a United Way organized tour where we learned about a few of their community partners, including a visit to the Chris Rose Therapy Centre for Autism and the Canadian Mental Health Association clubhouse, along with a drive past some Elizabeth Fry housing.

It opened our eyes to the amazing things these non-profits do - teaching children with autism how to cope in a world that can overload the best of us; providing people that have mental health issues a place to socialize, use a computer, make lunch, do some laundry, sew a quilt or care for plants in a greenhouse; and helping families start anew in safe housing they could otherwise not afford.

There are dozens of other organizations the United Way supports and lots of other worthy non-profits in the community that folks can donate to; it's simply a matter of finding one that's right for you.

I guess there's no time like the present to broach the idea with family.

Who knows, they may readily agree with ditching the consumerism of Christmas and giving something instead that holds real meaning.

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