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Giving Charitable Donations

Are You Giving Charitable Donations or Caving to Scary, High Pressure “Help”?

Giving Charitable Donations is One Thing…

Debby lives paycheck to paycheck, always struggling to make ends meet, although she does believe in giving charitable donations and helping others where she can. After a long day at work, on a windy, rainy evening last week, Debby needed gas. Rather than pop into the gas station right across the street from her office, she drove out of her way to get less pricey gas. It generally gave her pleasure to pay cash and scout out the cheapest gas available.

On that particular night, as Debby walked out of the store to her pump, a man standing outside called to her, “Excuse me, can you spare 50 cents?” Debby was startled by both the panhandler standing there with his umbrella blowing in the wind and his request, but she answered that she would see how much change she had after pumping the gas.

Should she just give the guy the money if he so desperately needed it? But did he so desperately need it?

As she pumped, however, Debby’s mind was racing. Should she be giving charitable donations to this vagrant? She drove all the way across town to save 50 cents; why should she give it to this guy asking for money? Really, was she being ridiculous? Should she just give the guy the money if he so desperately needed it? But did he so desperately need it? Why, after working until 7 p.m. and trying to save a buck, should she give her money to this person, who was pressuring every customer who walked through the gas station for money?

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Debby then begrudgingly started thinking about the stench at the ShopRite earlier that morning when she cashed in her cans and bottles for a measly 75 cents. Did she really go out of her way for that chore, only to feel pressured into giving charitable donations? Or was she really being a Scrooge?

Strangers in the Night

When the pump clicked off, Debby’s gas purchase came to $28.48. She would, in fact, receive 52 cents in change. Seeing the beggar staring at her as she crossed his path back into the store, she kept her eyes straight ahead. Once in the store, she told the cashier, “There is a guy out there begging money from your customers, and I feel quite uncomfortable.” The cashier told his co-worker to go out and deal with the man. As Debby received her change, in walked the co-worker and the guy, clearly agitated, who then looked Debby up and down and loudly called out, “Who is complaining about me? Just tell me who!”

She berated herself for not just giving him the 50 cents. “Was the measly change worth dying for?” she asked herself.

With the panhandler being closely watched by store employees, Debby took the opportunity to escape to her car, heart pounding. As she waited to exit the station’s parking lot to get onto the main street, heavy traffic blocked her and she seriously feared she was a sitting duck and could even be shot by the man. She berated herself for not just giving him the 50 cents. “Was the measly change worth dying for?” she asked herself. She thought of the stories she heard practically daily involving mental illness, loose cannons and violent incidents.

Finally, there was an opportunity for her to ease into the street and after driving just one block, she had to pull over and take a few deep breaths to regain her composure.

When Debby retold this story to her adult kids, they were upset that she didn’t give the beggar her change. Her mother, however, agreed with Debby’s decision not be pressured into giving charitable donations or to “pay” an extortioner. Beggars who are aggressive or intimidating aren’t really begging; they are extorting.

Giving Charitable Donations can Feel Like High Pressure “Help” at the Holidays

The next day, as Debby was going to the bank, she heard the bells of a Santa seeking out her money for a charitable cause. Even though Debby is extremely generous, both with her time and money for the charities of her choosing, she felt attacked again.

A few days after that, Debby went to an exclusive store in the mall where she had purchased an expensive leather bag for herself as a birthday present a year earlier. The bag had been well-loved and needed conditioning. The store offered this service to its customers just for the asking.

Even though Debby is extremely generous, both with her time and money for the charities of her choosing, she felt attacked

When returning to pick up her bag, however, Debby was a bit taken aback when the clerk said, “Look what an amazing job I did with your bag. We are seeking customer donations for our charity.” Debby dutifully dug into her wallet and gave the requested $25 donation, but walked away from the store shaking her head. How was it that she felt forced to donate to a charity for a “free” service?

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Seeking Advice: Watch Your Guard and Remain Cautious

Debby was torn and asked what I thought about all this.

Of course, those who beg for your money are different from those who (claim to) seek your charitable contributions.

At the gas station, maybe Debby shouldn’t have made eye contact nor broken her stride as she attended to fueling up her tank. Or maybe she could have honestly said, “I’m broke myself, and should be asking you for money.”

In any event, you should not allow yourself to be bullied, and you should not have to be fearful to get gas or be harassed by others — “do-gooders” or not.

You should not allow yourself to be bullied, and you should not have to be fearful to get gas or be harassed by others.

When approached by a panhandler about giving charitable donations, go with your gut instinct. You know if someone looks like a drug addict or a manipulative con artist versus someone who is in desperate need. You can always provide food and/or information about local shelters if the person is willing to accept your assistance (rather than just your money). I always like the idea of donating food, time and material objects, as you never really know where the money you give is going.

If a beggar (or anyone) becomes aggressive, shout to draw attention or find safety at a nearby business and seek assistance, as Debby did. Unfortunately, in this situation, the beggar entered the business, and for reasons unknown, was not restrained from doing so.

Is Giving Charitable Donations OK? It’s a Case-by-Case Basis

The answer of whether to monetarily assist is, of course, a personal choice. This will depend on:

  • our own personal values and finances;
  • what your state of mind is at the time of being asked; and
  • how the beggar presents him or herself.

My research reflects that no beggar wants to be ignored. Address the beggar with a clear, “No, sorry,” if that is your intention, or tell a little white lie: “Sorry, I have no cash.” Saying “no” may be better than ignoring the person as if they are nonexistent and not worthy of your acknowledgment.

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If you are inclined to help, proceed with caution and do so in a safe manner. Keep your eyes on the beggar, and don’t open yourself (or your pocketbook) to vulnerability by looking down or away.

Will giving charitable donations, specifically in the form of money, to a person in need of money help him or her, or will it just enable the person to continue toward a downward spiral? There are strong opinions on both sides. Perhaps the best way to help those escape poverty is to donate to charities that help the poor to ensure your money goes toward food, water, shelter and resources that include employment training and financial coaching.

“I am thankful for all of those who said NO to me. It’s because of them I’m doing it myself.”

Albert Einstein

In terms of giving charitable donations to those who ask at the checkout line, determine if YOU care about that issue and know and respect the organization seeking your donation. Or say, “Thanks, but I have my own charitable plan,” and proceed with your money donations as you see fit.

“Good things come to those who wait. … Greater things come to those who get off their ass and do anything to make it happen.” – Unknown

About Michelle Gershfeld

I’m a debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney who negotiates resolutions between clients and their creditors. I am also a real estate attorney involved in both sides of purchasing and selling distressed real property. I am passionate about teaching people about money and helping individuals of all ages achieve financial independence and success in a "no…

Continue Reading Bio »   •   View all articles by Michelle »

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