Why you don’t need to filter your donations through corporations

As temperatures drop and the Christmas season approaches, we will all see more public efforts to encourage donating goods such as toys, nonperishable food items and winter clothing to the less fortunate. You might also think of Salvation Army bell-ringers toting their red kettles outside of your local grocery store or numerous other holiday-season efforts to give back; in fact, donations to charity skyrocket during the last three months of the year.

All of these efforts — except the Salvation Army — are entirely well-intentioned. Unfortunately, however, the mediation of donations through organization or corporations is fraught with potential nuances and problems that diminish the positive impact of the intended generosity.

Take the Salvation Army for example: despite their purported dedication to doing good, they are not only a charitable organization but also an Evangelical Christian church with a long history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. This history includes a number of crusades against legislative rights and protections for the LGBTQ+ community, attempts to circumvent local ordinances banning homophobic discrimination, the promotion of conversion therapy and a slew of other hateful transgressions.

On top of all of this, they have declared their belief that homosexuality is inconsistent with their Christian values and scripture on numerous occasions, recanting only after coming under fire in recent years. This is just one example of how charities can dupe people into thinking that their contributions are going towards something good, while in actuality, they are using your money to push a heartless agenda.

Another example of this is point of purchase fundraising, which refers to campaigns that aim to make donating to a good cause simple by getting cashiers to prompt you to donate while you make a purchase. When I worked at Burger King in high school, I remember asking customers “would you like to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donate your change to a good cause?” about a billion times.

What I did not know at the time, however, was that there is little way for consumers to know how these donations would be handled; in the case of hideously large corporations like Burger King, I think it is safe to assume that they probably pool all the collections together and claim it for tax deductions. This means that your change may be going to a good cause, yes, but will also simultaneously save corporations money along the way.

As a communist, this disgusts me; it seems nearly impossible to ensure that enormous philanthropic efforts are not only ethical but also effective. Take canned food drives as another example — most of the time, the labor, organization, transportation and other resources necessary to amassing nonperishable food items from the public outweigh the associated benefits.

Instead of digging an ancient can of baked beans out of the cupboard so you can feel good about sending your kid to school with something to give, why not just donate the dollar it cost directly to a food bank? Even better, why not just hand a dollar directly to a hungry person?

Putting money directly in the hands of those in need ensures that 100% of your contribution actually does go into their pockets. It also tells the recipient that you respect them as autonomous individuals, trusting that they know how to evaluate their own needs better than you do.

I am sure we have all heard the argument that you should not give money directly to the homeless because they will squander it on drugs or alcohol — and so what? The burn of a few shots can do wonders in warming a person from the inside out; who am I to deny a homeless person that simple pleasure?

Furthermore, resources for safe recovery from substance abuse disorders are seldom accessible to people struggling with homelessness. As someone who has always been fortunate enough to have a stable home, I feel that it is not my place to deny homeless people the right to seek temporary escape from the harsh realities of their circumstances, even when that means that some spare change I would be willing to give might end up in someone’s nose or lungs.

In sum, I do want us all to let that giving spirit wash over us, inspire us, motivate us towards compassionate action, not just in this holiday season but all year. I just also want us all to consider why it is less common, or perhaps less comfortable, to give money to people rather than corporations and churches.

We should not shy away from looking others in the face, eschewing responsibility and accountability for where our money goes. I want to see the disconnect between disadvantaged people and those who are willing to donate to foundations to support them dissolve. I want to see kindness without ego, fear, reservations or judgment — manifest in the connection between one hand full of spare change and one open palm is a purity that needs not be adulterated by the sticky fingers of corporations.