Avoiding Charitable Bankruptcy

Kelly Ann Butterbaugh

It feels good to donate to a charitable cause. I write the check that I know will buy the last ingredient needed to find the cure for cancer, and it feels good. Then, I write the check to help pay for books at a school ravaged by floods, and it feels good, too. Next, there are the checks to preserve historical monuments, to feed homeless puppies, to cheer co-workers during times of loss, for multiple sclerosis, for women's shelters, polar bears, fire stations'gasp.


All this charitable donating is leaving me feeling broke. How can I stay charitable and stay out of the poorhouse myself?

Stay Focused

One key to keeping charity under control is to stay focused. Choose one or two charities and pour all of your efforts into those. It's easy to get pulled into many charities; they fill much needed voids. However, most of us can't donate to every cause that comes across our desks. Add up all of the charities that approach you at work, through the mail, on the phone, through schools, at the supermarkets, and everywhere else, and one could easily allocate a paycheck each month towards contributions.

It's okay to say "no." While the word doesn't give me a pleasant feeling, I have to draw a line. At work people collect a sunshine fund for co-workers. Then, they raise money for cancer research during two different fundraisers throughout the year. Later, a coworker sets out to raise money for multiple sclerosis. Add in all of the student sales for class trips and sports and the dollar donations at the banks and stores, and charity begins to become a financial burden.


Instead, I've learned to politely say "no." I purchase from only one student fundraiser throughout the year, and I choose to support one organization researching a cure for a childhood illness. It feels good.

Set a Budget

Just as with everything, you must set a budget for your charitable spending. During the month of October, cancer fundraisers abound. By setting a limit, it becomes easier to say "no" during a busy month. By saying, "I already gave my donation at last week's community walk," you are supporting your cause within your means. It's also acceptable to tell someone, "I plan to donate my charitable allowance this month at my child's school function on the twenty-fifth."

By setting a budget, you allow yourself to have an option in donating as well. You can donate a small amount to several branches of the charity that month, or you can donate one larger contribution to one branch. With a budget of $50 allocated for historical preservation, there's the option of donating it all to the Gettysburg foundation's new visitor's center or sending the center only $25 and sending the other $25 to restore the town's train station. Either way feels good.


Donate More Than Money

I'm charitable but not wealthy. However, there is more to life than monetary wealth. Consider ways to help your charity beyond writing checks. While my donation budget is currently exhausted, my charitable heart is not. Can I help set up for the event? Can my services be donated?

When solicitors call or stop you at the store, ask them these questions. Donate your efforts as well as your earnings. It feels really good.

Stay Charitable

Sometimes the amount of times we're asked to give to various charities leads us to a less than charitable feeling. Try to keep an open mind. The solicitors have the best of intentions; they don't realize that they're the seventh phone call that day asking for donations. Nor do they realize that you've already exceeded your budget for the month. Likewise, keep your own mind open. You know your limitations, and there's nothing wrong with keeping them. It feels good to be charitable, it feels good to stay on budget, and it feels good to set charitable limits.

A man with no money in his wallet.

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December 2, 20080 found this helpful

Another problem we have with donating is trying to find out just how much actually goes to "the cause" and how much is paid to the CEO's and others. I know they have to get a salary but when I read that one charity only had 10 cents of every dollar going to the cause you donated to I began to be a lot more selective. I can't remember just how much the Salvation Army has for the work but the percentage is high. Also, my ex-marine husband said that the Salvation Army was the only one he can remember being there for the troops in Korea when he was there. We never pass a kettle!

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By Patt (Guest Post)
December 2, 20080 found this helpful

We donate our time instead. Lots of organizations need volunteers.

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December 3, 20080 found this helpful

We donate our time to activities we are involved in or our child's activities. We have an allotted amount of money we donate to causes, but most of them we try to keep close to home. We also spend our time doing fun runs or such, to raise money and do something together. We work with our child to do volunteer work in our community such as taking people to the grocery store, doing errands for shut ins, helping with younger kids in designated groups, volunteering for food drives or community dinners.


We donate 5-20hours a month with the average being 12. It's good training, it costs nothing and the feeling of accomplishment is tremendous.

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December 5, 20080 found this helpful

Bless your heart!
You know there is nothing wrong with cutting it back or even stopping cold turkey. As an alternative, donate your time to a charitable cause. Or use your time to gather donations from others in your area in order to help charitable causes. For instance, use the net and phone to gather coats for those in need. You are only limited to your own imagination and desire!

And your investment of time, energy and love will be far more rewarding to you. And probably to the hearts you touch, too!

Good luck!

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