Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



There are in our community some well meaning people who are constantly collecting money from other members of the community for projects which the collectors regard as important contributions to one or another cause.

This is generally done by calling, visiting or writing to those regarded as legitimate targets for such demands. “Legitimate” means someone who has committed to the cause for which money is sought or someone who, in the opinion of the collectors, should be concerned and seems to “owe” the collectors his money.

There is no doubt that some success is always attained by these collections. Otherwise no one would try this anymore. Nevertheless, much of the effort at collecting fails or raises far less than could be expected. There are several reasons for this failure.

First is the sheer volume of demands on the paychecks of the average American. Not a day goes by on which we do not receive demands for money in the mail. Those of us who have an office and a home address find so many demands for money for all kinds of “causes” that the total exceeds our income for the month. Last year I saved all demands for money for one month and found that these literally exceeded my income.

I use the word “demand” because the collectors seldom ask but generally demand. Collectors are so convinced of the importance of the “cause” that many of them use the most aggressive language in approaching possible contributors. This is particularly true of those who collect money by calling on the ‘phone or visiting their “targets” in person. I have repeatedly been accosted by pushy, arrogant and loud individuals who sought to “embarrass” me and others into giving them what they wanted. The motivation is easily discerned. We cannot normally make financial demands on others nor become obnoxious in our demands. However, in the name of “the cause” some of us believe we can use any gross method since “I am not asking for the money for myself.” That isn’t quite the case, however. The collectors gain a good deal of “psychic income” from collecting for “righteous causes”, including praise from the recipients, i.e. the numerous bureaucrats in the agencies who benefit from the collections.

A third reason why our efforts at collecting money for various purposes is often ineffective is that the contributors do not know where their money is going. Advertisements, of course, depict starving children or old folks in rags. However, the money collected really doesn’t go to such individuals. It goes to “agencies” and pays the salaries of the employees of such agencies. Many of the executives of such agencies earn upward of $200,000 and more. Then there are assistant directors, department heads and a whole litany of lesser deities who work in such agencies. In short, almost all the money collected for charities is collected for the payroll. Moreover, many a collection is undertaken by a collection agency, which pockets upward of 50% of the “take”.

There are a good number of would-be contributors to many causes who recognize that they cannot compete with the contributions of the rich and the super-rich. For example, it is widely advertised that Mr. X or Mrs. Y has given $1 million or even $2 million. This means to those with lesser funds that their contribution would be negligible and no doubt ridiculed. Consequently, many who could at least give something will give nothing because their puny contribution is evidently meaningless.

Yet another reason for the failure of some to contribute anything to numerous “charities” is experience. There are those who sought at one time to be on the receiving end of numerous welfare organizations only to discover they were on their own and that the large welfare agencies would not give them so much as a nickel. Then, when these same erstwhile destitute people gain income and community status, the same people who would not “give them the time of day” suddenly arrive at their doorstep demanding money. The erstwhile poor, now affluent, then ask, “where were you when I was down and out in the street?” Knowing they were ignored when they needed help, these fortunate few who “made it” cannot believe that those who need help now will get any more help than they received when they needed it. In short, nothing.

In view of all this, there are a good number of people who will not contribute to organized “charities” but who give directly to the poor and the needy. That insures that those who need it the most really get help.

There is of course reason enough to make contributions to various “causes” because those on the payroll of these “agencies” would undoubtedly be unemployable if they lost their current jobs. Therefore the money which is earned as salaries by the collectors and their friends may well prevent these “earners” from having to be receivers of charity themselves.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2003).

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