THE ART OF GIVING

Many years ago, I was having a deep conversation with two black women that opened my eyes to many things we never give a thought about until someone brings up the topic.

How many times have we looked in our closets and pulled out clothing we haven’t worn in ages and deliberated about donating them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or giving them to our cleaning girl?  My guess is that most people have done just that.  They don’t just throw things in the garbage can; they pass them on to people who may need them.  Hence, we don’t give a thought about the people who receive them.  We don’t wonder whether they will love the items they receive; we just assume they will be grateful for getting something they need but are too poor to buy.

After talking to those two women, I realized how naïve I had been.  One of them looked at me with anger and resignation in her eyes.  “You people think we’re grateful for getting all your old things, but we’re not.  We don’t love you; we hate you for being able to buy new things while we have to smile at you and thank you for giving us your old, worn-out castoffs.”

This conversation changed my life fifty or sixty years ago.  I had always given part of my earnings to charity even when it was the last dollar I had.  No one had to tell me to do it or that it was expected of me; it was just an inner compulsion to share what I had.  But now I resolved to do it differently.

Whenever I wanted to make a donation to a worthy charity, I would go to the bank and get a cashier’s check and ask them not to put my name on it.  I would do the same with money orders. From that day forward, for all these years, I’ve made all my donations anonymously, away from prying eyes, praise, recognition, and greedy people with their hand out.

Do you remember singer-composer Bob Geldof who organized that massive concert to help the people of Ethiopia?  I doubt if there was anyone who listened to the CD of “We are the World” who didn’t buy at least one copy of the CD.  He worked tirelessly on raising money for that event only to discover that the money never reached the people because the bigwigs grabbed it for themselves.  The same is true of almost all the fundraising done for everything and every organization.

My first exposure to the way this works on a large scale was when I talked to the then-current president of the Heart Association.  “How much of our donations reach the people who need it?” I asked.  “About 10% of it,” he replied.  I was appalled and instantly regretted the donation I had made a few hours before meeting him.  He tried to justify this by saying, “10% represents more money than they could raise on their own since the Heart Association does massive advertising which trickles down to the people who need it.”  That was the last time I ever gave a dime to the Heart Association.

Another time I sent two of my most experienced fundraisers to volunteer their time to any organization of their choice.  The first one never received a return call from any of the organizations she contacted and the second one was only interested in adding her family to their database.  That organization really missed out.  She went on to raise the highest amount of money for the company she was working for.

My own experience is a classic.  Many years ago, I had one stellar financial year.  I read a newspaper article that told of 

the desperate need for dialysis machines. I researched it and found that I could pay the $25,000 to the same company that supplies the dialysis machines to the hospitals.  I was excited because I had just heard that someone I liked very much had a son who needed treatment several times a week but she couldn’t afford the treatments or the transportation to and from the hospital.  My thought was that I would buy the machine for her and pay for the nurse to go to her home to give the treatments. None of the hospitals were receptive to the idea.  “We don’t accept dialysis machines,” came all the replies.  I tried logic.  “But I would never get to see them; they will go straight from the medical supply company where you buy them,” I argued.  The answer was always the same.  Then came the sentence that killed the deal.  “Just send the money.”

Over the years I kept hearing that people were much more generous in past years; they used to give much more money than they do now.  I strongly disagree.  I think people still want to give but the veil has come off our eyes.  We no longer believe that the money we raise to feed people around the world will ever get to those people.  Now we know that politicians the world over will line their own pockets with our hard-earned money instead of feeding the hungry.  We have only to look at the earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 300,000 people.  We all ran to our banks to wire money to supply food and fresh water to the people who were now homeless.  We gave all we had only to discover that the 15 billion dollars that we raised went to the politicians and nothing went to the people who were struggling to survive.  Is it any wonder why very few of us no longer come rushing to the aid of people in crisis?

I still see evidence of our generosity.  True, it’s much scarcer these days but it’s still there waiting for a reason to come out again.  Mankind can’t give up now; we’re at a crucial time in the history of the world.  We can either save ourselves and each other or we can become as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Don’t harden your heart.  You don’t have to give money to the robber barons but there are many other ways we can help each other.  Give without expecting anything in return, be it for financial profit or appreciation.  Give because there is nothing in the world that feels as good as giving.  Give because it will fill up the empty spaces within you and lead you on your path to enlightenment.  Give because someday you may have to be the recipient of someone else’s kindness.  But, most of all, give because you have a heart filled with love and you want to share it with everyone.

Written by Connie H. Deutsch

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