How I Banished Charity Guilt

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Charity Guilt

We live in a world where so many people are in need. Human rights violations, treatments for diseases out of reach to those who need it most, addictions, poverty … The list goes on. So many people worse of then we are, in our comfortable well fed first world lives.

Giving is something we are told is the most worthwhile thing to do. “Giving opens the way for receiving.” Said Florence Scovel Shinn, putting it succinctly. Even more poignant, it was Anne Frank who said “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Yet it is hard to know how to live by these worthwhile guidelines when so many charities need cold hard cash and we each have only so much to give. How can we feel good about giving when so many are still in need after we have given?

I like to think I’m a generous person. But in the past I have felt uneasy and its because of what I have coined charity guilt. Phone calls, approaches in shopping centres, appeals on social media and emails. Enthusiastic caring people who are passionate about the good work their charity does. They usually sound so worthy, the voices so passionate. I want to help but I can’t. I can only give so much. Especially when so many want you to commit to a regular monthly amount I simply cannot support any more charities on that basis.

I regularly contribute to a number of charities each month. I give on an ad hoc basis when it is something that I or a friend is passionate about. Yet I do feel guilty when I have to say no to a charity especially to those people in person who have taken the time to explain to you how important their work is.

Now I realise I shouldn’t feel guilty as I cannot possibly give to every charity. Even if I gave $1 to every charity or cause I would still be bankrupt since there are so many genuinely good causes.

So in order to avoid this charity guilt I gave myself a stern talking to and I thought of 5 things that would make me feel better. If you ever find yourself wondering which charities to support or find yourself wallowing in charity guilt then this list may point you in the right direction.

  • Ask yourself what are you passionate about? Everyone has different passions and priorities. Think about the last charity you gave money to – why did you choose it? It may be human rights is your passion or finding a cure for cancer. Chances are you have been touched by something like a loved once suffering from or succumbing to a disease. So helping a charity that might find a cure or offer support to patients has personal meaning to you. You can pick one or two or three charities or how many you think is appropriate, that mean something to you, and support them as much as you can. It doesn’t have to be forever. You could even review each year if you choose.
  • You cannot help everyone. It sounds obvious and it is but guilt often happens despite the obvious. So if approached simply say you have a set amount of charities you give to and you cannot spare any more at the moment. If you like the sound of the charity do some research. Perhaps you could consider supporting them at a later date, but don’t let anyone put you on the spot. You are entitled to say no.
  • Think about non monetary contributions. The last time I had a bout of charity guilt I reminded myself of the volunteer work I do. I do writing work for a women’s legal service which is much appreciated and which I enjoy doing. Maybe you have an hour or more a week to spare? Once again pick something you are passionate about and offer your services. Chances are most charities would be thrilled to have an extra pair of hands. You might have a talent or skill that you could offer, or else any kind of help would be useful. It could be as simple as stuffing envelopes or selling pens on a stall. Which brings me to my next point.
  • Support charities by buying useful items like pens. I use them a lot as I enjoy writing freehand. So I will often buy charity pens when I see them. The money goes to a good cause and I would need to buy pens anyway. Sometimes there are other things that can come in useful. Those Daffodil Day bears are gorgeous and make great gifts for kids or even adults who have a childlike appreciation of teddy bears (raises hand enthusiastically!)
  • Raise awareness. This is another great way of helping charities you feel are worthy of support. You can like Facebook pages and share their posts. Sign petitions and share them as well. You can tell people when you hear of a new charity. Maybe that person is looking for a charity to support? If you have a blog write blog posts about worthwhile causes. There are numerous ways you can give a charity a boost that won’t cost you a penny.

So now I have put these guidelines in place for myself I don’t feel guilty when I have to refuse, no matter how worthwhile a charity may sound. I do my bit overall and if I ever feel I need to do more there are non monetary ways I can do that.

Whilst I find these 5 things helpful sometimes I also need to remind myself what giving is really about. It is worth remembering that giving needs to be simply for the act of giving and not with any expectation of reward. If you are giving to ten charities simply so you can loudly tell people you are giving to ten charities then have a good hard think about what that says about you.

It was Philo who put it so well, “Those who give hoping to be rewarded with honour are not giving. They are bargaining.”

So once you get the spirit of giving right and figure out where your passions lie it is a wonderful thing to give. If you can give what you can, then you can make a difference and banish charity guilt from your life, because let’s face it… It’s not helping anyone.