Friday, June 22, 2012

The Charitable Divide--Help!

There is a rift in my household that I never knew existed before. Shane was flipping through the mail and said, "Hey, look, the March of Dimes sent you a dime." Yep. They've been doing that for months. I haven't donated to charity often over the past few years, but when a friend has a baby I often like to make a blanket for said baby and then donate a bit to a charity in their name. Sometimes the charity is very poignant--some friends had a little girl born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, so I donated to Smile Train in her honor. When a cousin had a baby born prematurely, I donated to a charity which supports families of preemies while they're in the hospital and helps the preemies themselves. When I've felt truly pinched for cash, it was sometimes easiest just to donate a homemade blanket. I'll make two, one for a boy and one for a girl. When I find out what the baby's sex is, the other blanket gets donated. Sometimes I tell the parents, sometimes I don't. But it's my own little way of ensuring that each child that's special to me starts life with a bit of good karma, or whatever you want to call it.
Sometimes, these charities sell your name and info. It sucks, and I hate it. There are so many good charities out there, so many worthwhile funds that I would like to support. But, I also hate that they sell my information. I donated to this group for a reason, what makes that group think that I'm going to have the funds or the desire to donate to them? I hate that my privacy was sold. And I hate how pushy some of these charities are.
What's even worse is how many of them come with a "free gift"--stickers, address stickers with my info on some sort of background that shows off the organization's logo, or in this case a dime. If I'm donating to charity, it's not to get their "free gift", which probably isn't free to them. I'd much rather they keep all their money instead of wasting it like that.
The March of Dimes has been, without a doubt, the worst and pushiest. Without fail, every month or so I get a letter in the mail from them with a dime that's supposed to tug on my heartstrings as they explain how that one dime could help a child in need. My first thought is always, then why are you sending the f**king dime to me?!
I've tried everything I can think of to get them to stop. I sent their dime back the first few times with a letter explaining that, like so many others, my household had been affected by job loss and that we weren't donating to charity at that time. It didn't stop them. I recently sent them two dimes back and a message saying that since they'd been annoying me, that's all the money they'd get from me and could they please take me off their list? This latest letter was their response. And before you think that no one saw my letter, I had a little test. They'd been addressing my mail by my maiden name and I signed my letter with my married name finally. On this latest letter from them, my name was changed.
I would feel awful about keeping the dimes they're so desperate to give me, even though they clearly have money to waste. So with this latest letter, I'm not going to send back their dime. I'm going to donate it to the local food bank and then use their prepared envelope with a letter that simply tells them my local food bank thanks them for their generosity and dimes, but if they'd prefer to keep them for their own charitable works that they should stop sending them to me. I don't know if this will work any better than my other letters, but at least I'll feel better. The dimes will go to an organization that truly needs them.
I didn't explain all of this to Shane, but I did decide to use that moment as a launching point for something I'd been thinking about for a while. I had just started off with, "Speaking of charities, I was thinking that I'd like to..." When Shane broke in with an emphatic "NO!" Surprised by the vehemence, I stopped washing dishes to look at him. He said, "No. We're still paying off my student loans, we're trying to save for a house, and we're thinking of bringing a child into this household at some point. We can't afford it." I explained that I just wanted to donate a small monthly sum to the food bank but he said, "No. Volunteer there as much as you like, but please don't give away our money. I really don't feel like we can afford it." Naturally, I had to ask him when he would feel like we could afford it and he answered, "Honestly, I never like giving away money."
So now I'm left wondering, what to do? This differing opinion on donating to charity is spotlighting some of the fundamental differences in how we view finances. Shane doesn't like donating money because he doesn't think it does any good. Helping out friends in need is one thing, but helping out strangers is not something he's interested in. He doesn't see what I see, that there are times and situations when people simply can't help themselves. I also don't think that a few bad decisions (like a bad housing loan leading to homelessness) should haunt someone for the rest of their lives. Having a brother and a cousin who are both social workers, I hear about the people they work with and the severe mental illnesses that many of them fight against daily. True, giving them money isn't the answer. But a little bit of money in the right places can go a long way towards helping a person, or a family, that's in need.
I like giving to the food bank, or to organizations like Heifer International, because those are organizations that help people who are literally starving to death. I find it unacceptable that people in the world are still starving, even in my own country. Additionally, the food bank frequently helps people who are temporarily going through hard times, and Heifer International helps people to help themselves. (And to continue giving the gift--that's one of my favorite parts.) These organizations help people on the brink. How can I do any less?
Shane still sees us as being in a precarious financial position. He sees the debt, and the future debt, we've taken on/are going to take on. He sees the costs of raising children, and it scares him. I see what we already have--less debt than most people, and more money in the bank than most people. Good jobs that are allowing us to save money for the future. I know that we will be fine. We have resources, and our health, and caring, giving families who will help us out if we ever run into trouble again. I see just how much we have, and how little other people have. Yes, it might be because of bad choices. It might not be because of their choices at all. No matter what, I feel that I should help these people because I can. In my own little way, it would be a "thank you" to the universe for having gifted us so richly.
This discussion isn't over, not nearly. I dropped the subject for the moment, mostly because I was distracted with my hands covered in soapy water. Some discussions are better to have while both parties are naked and lying in bed, when it's easier to be completely open and honest with each other, when harsh words and tones are out of place. (Seriously, it might sound bizarre, but some of our best discussions have been had that way. Things have been worked out while we snuggled which might have caused an argument if held in a more formal situation.) Shane did apologize later for his harshness on the subject, and I warned him that the topic wasn't done, and he nodded.
If Shane completely puts the kibosh on donating, I see myself as having a couple of choices: the first is that I donate whether he likes it or not. I could easily donate online using my credit card, and since our cards are separate and we don't view each other's e-statements, it would be easy enough to hide a little bit of charitable donation now that our monthly living expenses have gone down so much. An extra $50 of "grocery money" wouldn't really be noticed. But if I have to lie to my husband, that feels like a terrible decision. I know how pissed I'd be if he pulled something like that. Lying to one's spouse is never a good sign, and it's often a sure way to Divorceville.
I say it's a choice, but it's obviously not one I'm actually going to go for.
I could just live with not being able to fully express my values, and feel like a hypocrite. Even if/when I donate my time, I will always feel that I have the resources to do more, and it will eat away at me. But will it eat away at Shane if I do live my values? Or will he learn to accept it as part of our monthly budget? When we were simply dating, our finances and earnings were our own. We tried to keep mutual expenditures relatively fair, but didn't really stick our noses in when the other person decided to make a purchase or spend their money. But now it really is our money, and I feel an obligation to live also how Shane wants to live. If that means not donating money to charity, I might have to live with it.
The final thing I could do is to continue to grow and expand my garden so that, eventually, I could start donating some of the excess food to the food bank. This is something I've been wanting to do anyway for a long time, but it was always in my plan that it would be in addition to whatever money I also felt I could afford.
Shane did say that if I wanted to buy tickets to things like charity dinners, even if it turned out to be rather expensive, that would be fine with him. He'd want a heads-up, but unless we were really strapped for cash he wouldn't say no. In many ways, it's the perception of giving away our money "for nothing" that gets to him. I don't see helping the world and most especially our community as getting "nothing" in return, but that's a discussion for another day. And again, it goes back to differing ways we view the world.
Life is a compromise, and I never thought that marriage would be easy. It's fun, and wonderful, and I wouldn't trade Shane for anything or anyone else in the world. But getting married hasn't meant that we suddenly see everything the same way, or think about life the same way. The hardest part of any relationship is reconciling those points on which we disagree. Thankfully, those are few and far between for us. But while some differences are small and easily overlooked, others (like this) are big things. If there's anyone out there with advice,, any and all of it would be gratefully accepted. What would you do? How do you and your spouse make decisions about, well, "moral" expenditures and issues? Do you ever have times when one spouse just needs to compromise on their values?


  1. What a great post! I really hadn't thought about an issue like that in terms of how a relationship needs to work through it. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Shane might be open to an organization like Kiva, which is where I do my charitable business. Kiva is a microlending group where you get to choose the person who receives your money, and you lend a minimum of $25. The person (almost always - they have a repayment rate of something like 98%) will then slowly pay you back over time, and the very small interest rate goes to Kiva and other microlending agencies they work with to pay for operating costs. Once you're paid back your initial loan amount, you can choose to re-loan it or you can withdraw it and have your money back. So, if you were ever hurting for cash, you could make sure to get it back. Otherwise, you could loan it to the next person or group of your choice!

    I currently have $75 in loans to three different groups, and I really enjoy watching the repayments come in and sometimes getting updates about how the group is doing. I want to loan you this book called "Half the Sky", as it really talks about the power of microlending, especially to women.

    1. That is a great idea. It would fit my need to "give" money, and Shane's wish to not give money. Thanks! I'll float it by him soon to see what he thinks.