Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina donation: How Much Should I Give?

I wasn't planning to post much while I was away, but there's so much going on. In New York, I'm usually fairly oblivious to gas prices, unless there is something in the newspaper about them. But up here, where I'm actually in more of a car-oriented place, it's hard not to notice when gas prices go up 40 cents per gallon overnight. And the true magnitude of the Hurricane Katrina destruction just keeps sinking in more. So I decided to make a donation to the Red Cross. But here's the thing-- if you've read any of this blog you know I have to disect every financial move I make, and I have a frugal streak. In other words, I'm cheap. Does this mean I don't want to be generous in helping those in need? Of course not. I think charitable giving is the right thing to do, and it makes me feel good to do it, and I do do it. I know I have more money than many people, and life has been good to me. I feel like I should be generous, and sometimes I feel guilty that maybe I don't give enough, especially when I tell my accountant what the yearly total was for my tax deduction.
But I also can't help thinking that there are a lot of people in the world who are better positioned than I am to be able to throw money at the problems of the world. I don't have any data to prove it, but I don't think the super-rich people who are getting these tax break windfalls are contributing as much as they should to help those less fortunate. I'll probably be crucified here for being a selfish bitch and people will ask how I can think of such a thing when people are dying in the streets. But I'm just trying to look at the issue through the lens of this blog's topic and be honest here and open a dialogue. Haven't you ever had that moment when a panhandler asks you for change, or when someone in the office is looking for sponsorship for the AIDS Ride or something, and you start to wonder, how much should I give? How much is enough? Do I have to give something-- don't I have enough to worry about in my own life? Have you ever had that little voice in your head that says "Charity Begins at Home?" Massive disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami, and 9/11 usually sweep these concerns aside for a lot of people, or perhaps the outpouring of public sentiment and attention make people feel too guilty if they don't contribute. Also, often people will make a contribution and display a sticker or ribbon or whatever the lapel pin of the day is, but they won't say how much money they gave. Was it $5? Was it $2000? If you were an "Angel" on the program rather than just a "Friend," did that mean you gave $1000 or $4999? And what percentage of your income did that represent? And if it wasn't tax deductible, would you still have given that money?
I really don't mean to sound so cynical-- I think most people really are moved when an unimaginable tragedy occurs, and act out of sincere generosity and empathy for the pain of others. But as with any other occasion where you part with money, some thought goes into the how and why of it. So: I had already made my decision yesterday to donate some money. A number popped into my head. Then I wondered if I could afford to give that much, or if I should really give more. I mulled it over, made a decision and sent the donation to the Red Cross tonight, and emailed Free Money Finance so it will be counted towards his matching donation program. I've read comments on some other blogs about people donating money, sometimes noting specific amounts, sometimes not. I don't know what the "right" amount is for someone to give based on their financial circumstances. But I'd be interested to know what other people think, and I'm inviting you to tell me in the poll below. I'll post a follow-up to tell you what I actually did give.

Given what you've read here about my financial situation, how much do you think I should have donated to the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief?
$0, let wealthier people take care of it

Free polls from


lpkitten said...

i'm right there with you. i would love to help but know that there are lots of people out there who will not miss the money as much as i would.

i honestly think that the best thing for everyone to do is at least make a small donation. those small donations add up and you will probably never notice the money is gone. if you imagine that every american donated on average $5, and assuming there are 295,734,134 people in the U.S, donations would total $1,478,670,670!

Caitlin said...

I think you are just being honest and public about the process most of us went through in some way. I know that I talked it over with LaLa first so we gave something as a household by combining some funds. To be honest, we gave more than what felt comfortable at this particular time because it just felt right.

I get hit up all year for donations to walks and rides and while I really support what those folks are doing (I did a couple of fundraising walks for years myself) I politely decline because something will always come along that truly moves me, or that is so immediate that my (IMO) small donation can really make an impact.

Each person has to decide what feel right for them. What helped me give a little more than what was comfy was the matching donation by FMF.

Ironically, I usually experience that the more I let go (of money, etc) the more it comes back. That's not my motivation, but it's just interesting to note (maybe the wiccans are onto something? heh)

I didn't post how much I gave because I didn't want anyone (or me!) to feel pressured. But I am happy to answer that in email for the curious ;)

FMF said...

1. Thanks for mentioning my match. We're almost at $7,000 total and are shooting for $10k. Details are at:

THanks for giving, too.

2. The comment above of,

"Ironically, I usually experience that the more I let go (of money, etc) the more it comes back. That's not my motivation, but it's just interesting to note (maybe the wiccans are onto something? heh)"

This is a true financial principle that's found in most religions and even new age philosophy. If you give freely, somehow more seems to come back to you. You can see this post for more on this topic:


mmb said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mmb said...

Wow, my approach involved thinking, "Good God! I can't imagine what those people are going through" and then I was at the red cross site donating. I don't think I stopped to actually think anything. But then that's kind of how I live my life! I do think it's important to do what you can in these situations though and not worry too much about who else is doing or not doing their part.

Stephanie said...

I am thrilled to see that you found the Free Money Finance matching program! After Katrina, I wanted to have my donation matched (my employer does not match employee donations) and went looking for matching opportunities. They were not organized or easy to find, so I founded, a non-profit site dedicated to providing information on and links to organizations willing to match consumer donations and customer donations.

Please keep in mind for future donation opportunities and thank you so much for supporting Katrina victims!