March 18, 2014 | By: Jillian Rodrigues

Why you should think twice before giving to charity.

Now before you pass judgement on me, thinking I’m a horrible, selfish person who doesn’t believe in giving to those in need, hear me out. This advice can help you stay within your monthly budget

The other day I was walking in the mall, when a lady behind a booth called out to me, “Do you have a minute to hear about how you can help ____?” (I’m not going to go into detail about the specific charity). Now as someone who is very sceptical about even the most well-known, established charities, I’m actually always interested to hear about new ones, in search of the few organizations I feel confident enough to donate my hard-earned dollars to. So I stopped and listened. She told me about some of the work they did, and it did sound admirable. At that point my three year old son was getting anxious, so I said “let’s cut to the chase, what kind of donation are you looking for?”... I was ready to donate!

“Well we accept monthly donations of $42.00 and up, so it basically works out to a dollar something a day.” “Can I make a one-time donation?” I asked her, as I wasn’t exactly trying to add on yet another expense to my monthly budget from a simple trip to the mall. “We’re actually only taking monthly donations right now”, she replied. What???!!! Why won’t they take my money?? I thought to myself.  I told her I should get going as my son was getting impatient, so she offered to fill out the form for me. I told her I needed to think about it. She then asked if she could get my name and number to give me a call. That’s when I politely smiled and said I’ll know where to find her if I decide I'm interested, and walked away. As I went up the escalator, I did some quick math...$42.00 X 12...what...wait...she just asked me to make a $504.00/year decision in a matter of minutes.

Who are these people who commit hundreds of dollars to a single charity during a simple trip to the mall? Are they the above-average income earners who have more money than they know how to spend? Actually they’re often just the people who are not very good at saying NO. How do I know this? Because I briefly worked for one of the marketing companies who are hired by these charitable organizations to find such people. Now I’m not saying that these charities don’t do great work. They probably do. Rather I take issue with the fact that psychological practices are often used to elicit costly donations that one may not even be able to afford when maintaining a monthly budget.

While I’m not going to divulge everything that I was taught to do during my training at this marketing company, I will say this. Just like a salesperson will use kindness, persistence, and a sense of urgency to close a sale, the same rules can be applied with soliciting donations. Except now the guilt of not wanting to help a “good cause” can also be added. The best thing to do, just like before making any major purchase, is to take some time and think it through. If it is a cause that you personally find truly worthy, then you will be eager to donate to it, even after the pushy representative is gone. I’m sure you know that feeling I’m talking about, where you are actually excited to donate to a charity because you feel all warm and tingly thinking about how your donation will help its recipients. That is the feeling you should get. Not obligation because you’re afraid to look uncaring or cheap.

I’m not saying not to help others or donate to charities. I’m saying to put some thought into it, and make sure that you are giving your money to a cause because you want to, and because you can afford to, not because you feel like you are supposed to.  You should give to the causes you find worthy and meaningful, not the ones that make you feel the most pressured.

Finally, one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned as a psychology major was the Rule of Reciprocity. Basically, when someone does a favour for you, whether you requested or needed that favour at all, human nature compels you to automatically feel the need to return the favour. This is a very common tactic of sales people. I’m sure you’ve seen companies or charities that will offer you a free small gift as a thank you just for listening to them, or the wonderful salesperson who will compliment you and ask you all about yourself. These small gifts, compliments, or acts of kindness then make you feel compelled to return the favour and give in to whatever the person is asking for, which is usually a lot more valuable than whatever they originally gave you and can easily break your monthly budget. Various studies have shown this rule of human nature to have significant impacts on how much a person will actually give or spend.  After learning about this practice, I no longer feel any guilt with having a really good conversation with a stranger, politely saying no thank you and walking away.


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