Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Saturday, August 11, 2012


The root of the word essentially explains why my attitude toward donations is significantly different than my children’s or my grandchildren’s.  The Latin stem of the word comes from “working together”. Contributions are really big as this Election Year heads towards its November conclusion.  Not a day goes by that I don’t receive several solicitations through the mail, text, or telephone.  This has caused me to pause and reflect on how my contributions, in time and money, have changed through the years; and why.

My parents believed in allowances, some portion of which was tied to contributing time and effort to help around and with household activity.  We were churchgoing people, who went to Mass every Sunday and often, in those days, on other occasions.  As Catholics we were given an opportunity to contribute at least once to a collection, generated by men passing around a wicker basket on a long handle.  Years later, I realized that in my parish, as many outside Iowa, portions of the collection made their way back to Ireland to support the Resistance; not that knowledge of this fact would have deterred my donation.

My donation was expected to come from my allowance, and when support for a new church was needed, my sister and I were encouraged to donate a separate amount for something in the new church that would be “ours”.  My wife, Mary’s family did not believe in allowances, but her church experience mirrored mine, with a small amount given her and each of her siblings by her mother to place in the collection basket.  We also shared a commonality in supporting causes outside our church with time and money.  Support for the Second World War came in the guise of Bonds and Stamps.  Missionary work was supported by our adopting all manner of pagan babies from all corners of the world.  Polio was conquered by our contributions to the March of Dimes.

As we went to college, got married, and gained personal and financial independence, we began to transfer our good intentions to other charities that caught our interest: literacy, world hunger, Civil Rights, political positions.  Through it all, whether we gave time or money, we operated in the true sense of the word:  we worked together with others who believed as we did; who shared compassion for “our” causes.

I find it interesting that Mitt Romney’s only published contributions are to his church, tithing (of some figure) as the Book of Mormon suggests.  President Obama on the other hand has contributions more similar to mine, running to scores and perhaps hundreds of different organizations.  Both men’s contributions pale to those sums contributed by others to assist in their campaigns, an irony I find less than amusing.

My contributions are significant, occasionally direct as a large sum to one or another particular charity.  When I was in the corporate world, I would contribute through United Way to gain the benefit of a matching corporate award.  Now, in my retired state, the sums are generally less to any one charity but collectively of a sizeable enough amount, so my accountant asks for support before he says okay to my return.

I asked my 40 year-old son whether he contributes.  The word puzzled him for a moment before he gave a simple answer, “No.”  I haven’t asked his older brother but, knowing his hand-to-mouth budget policy, I am sure his answer would be similar.  As would his children: aged seven and fourteen.  I cannot help but compare their position, with middle to upper-middle class lifestyles, with the Gates and the Zuckerbergs, one who started philanthropy at their ages and one starting now, much younger.

As my generation passes, will charities lose the support they have learned to depend upon?  We are already seeing Foundation support whither for lack of investment return.  Will grass roots support be a death knell to not-for-profit endeavors?

I researched three avenues that define which charities make the best use of contributions: Charity Watch, CharityNavigator and the Better BusinessBureau.  Although I do not use them routinely, I am attuned to some charities that they list as lying beyond the pale, and would recommend them to those of you who contribute to non-local charities and want to see where your dollars are going.

I would be interested if my family contribution experience differs from yours.  Please comment.

Next Post I will share with you a unique experience Mary and I just had: a Bat Walk. Not to the cinema but to a local Audubon group: The Sea and Sage.  Absolutely fascinating!

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