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When Charity Fatigue Sets In

Requests for donations can be overwhelming around the holidays.

Charity burnout is dampening my spirit for giving this holiday season.

I know, call me a Grinch. I certainly don't want to feel this way -- and I'm trying to recover.

Opening my wallet in past years has rewarded me with the satisfaction of helping families that are less fortunate than mine, or supporting an organization, such as an eclectic radio station, that depends on contributions.

During the past year, however, my charitable inclinations have been short-circuited by a deluge of requests for money.

It seems that not a day goes by without an organization asking for cash. I felt overwhelmed -- and even helpless -- about trying to fulfill so many diverse financial needs. My heightened sensitivity to the many requests had me wondering if the checks I wrote in the past remotely made an impact.

Of course, my money had to be doing small amount of good. But that's difficult to recognize when multiple organizations and volunteers always want -- and need -- more.

The reality is that our family resources can only go so far. I developed emotional anesthesia, making it easier to say "no."

This year, I've decided to choose two charities that we'll support throughout the year, instead of just at Christmastime. Then, perhaps, I won't feel as guilty -- or in some cases as angry -- about saying "no" to the numerous requests we field during other months.

Our charitable efforts this year will include monthly sponsorship of a child through Save the Children -- a choice that I hope will not just benefit children in developing countries, but promote awareness among my own three kids of far worse problems than a weekend without



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Club Penguin.

My husband, Ben, and I will also continue to donate our time instead of just cash. Ben has served year-round as a volunteer fireman for nearly a decade. We also provide a loving environment to our dog, Riley, a homeless mixed-breed whom we adopted four years ago.

I realize that charitable organizations won't get the funds they require without promoting their existence -- and financial needs -- to the public. Even PBS, a once commercial-free bastion of television, has run ads from companies such as


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during recent years to attract much-needed support from corporate sponsors.

Continual requests for money -- especially when made by a single organization -- seem to dilute the urgency behind the cause. During the past couple of weeks, I've fielded pleas to buy cookie dough for a school fund-raiser, donate cash to homeless animals, add $10 to my order at the supermarket checkout for world hunger, contribute funds for a building expansion, and provide in-kind donations such as food, socks and blankets.

I'm generally responsive to drives that are run by local organizations and volunteers, because I know and trust the community-minded people behind them to get the items to people in need. But I'm not so sure how my $10 contribution at a supermarket checkout helps feed a hungry person, or how much of it is left over after the charity's administrative costs.

Last month, I subscribed to a newspaper that I don't have time to read because a high-school student from a rough town made a convincing presentation on my doorstep about how purchasing the subscription would help him earn a college scholarship.

One surefire way for an organization to quash my spirit for giving is by asking for money just after I've made a donation. I understand if organizations must solicit two or three times a year to promote awareness. But constant badgering for funds sends me running in the other direction.

Several years ago, I received a direct mail solicitation from an organization that said it supported children's cancer research. The photo that accompanied a sheet of return address labels bearing my name disturbed me. I didn't hesitate to write a check. But it seemed that only a month or two passed before I received another letter from the same charity, thanking me for my contribution and asking me to give again. I ignored it, but soon received yet another letter. The requests were soon arriving at regular intervals.

My compassion turned to anger. How could an organization that purports to fund so worthy a cause manage to incite and then alienate a donor? My contribution was obviously not sufficient to the organization, I thought. I also wondered why my money and the organization's resources were being wasted on incessant direct-mail campaigns targeted at people who recently gave.

Finally, I called the organization and asked to be removed from their mailing list. I may have been more inclined to continue my support if I heard from the charity once or twice a year, instead of more regularly, and had a better idea of how it was spending my donation, other than on direct marketing campaigns.

But it's time to put that behind me and get on with the business of placing my cash and time behind a limited number of organizations that will benefit from a year-round commitment. My family certainly can't save the world, but we can all do some good, even a dollar or an hour at a time.

Suzanne Barlyn is a writer in Washington Crossing, Pa.