Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How to donate responsibly

Over the years of our work with the Guide Horse Foundation, Janet and I have become friends with the ultra-rich, celebrities and even a few movie stars. People with high incomes have interesting views about charitable giving.

The tax laws are structured such that anyone who makes more then $10m a year must become a philanthropist, and it’s often hard to distinguish between those who give out of a true sense of charity from those who give because their accountant recommends a tax-deductible donation.

It’s funny, some celebrities want publicity for their donations while others take great pains to have their contributions remain completely anonymous. Some celebrities choose silly charities:

Rich folks can easily make donations that change people’s lives, but we mere mortals must work hard to have a donation make a major impact. When Janet and I trained Cuddles (a guide horse) for Dan Shaw, we spent hundreds of hours.

But it was well worth it to see the way that it changes Dan’s life. Dan now can go anywhere he wants without the help of a sighted person, and it was really rewarding to read Dan Shaw’s “My Turn” article in NEWSWEEK.

Personally, I like to give anonymously because I find it embarrassing to receive accolades from people, plus Janet and I don’t feel that it’s right to get any reward from giving. This week we are in Ecuador, and I felt guilty because I was enjoying playing the role of the dumb American and handing-out $5 bills to poor little nino’s, just to watch their faces light up. Giving should not be fun, right?

Because so many employees detest the shakedown tactics of employer-sponsored charities, Burleson Consulting forbids corporate interference in charitable giving.

To be completely fair, I also detest the tearjerker TV commercials where starving kids are paraded-out to illicit your sympathy. This sympathetic TV commercial shakedown claims to allow you to “sponsor” a child in a developing country and develop a personal relationship with “your” child.

Hogwash. In reality, the “letters” from “your child” are form letters, and you have to ask yourself who is paying the $30,000 fee for the TV heart wrenching commercials.

Take a bite to help the poor

If you are approached by a beggar asking for money for food and you suspect that they may use your money for drugs or alcohol, the easiest thing to do is to pop into a store and buy them a sandwich.

However, always take a bite before handing it to them, as we have watched beggars immediately exchange the sandwich for wine.

Witnessing poverty firsthand

We have been in South America for three weeks now and the poor are ubiquitous in South America. You can see everything from motherless children to grossly deformed cripples, begging on almost every street corner.

Most South America countries have limited social welfare systems, and hundreds of thousands of people for forced to resort to begging, prostitution and crime in order to survive.

It’s hard not to be moved by the abject poverty, and we recommend that you carry a large roll of five dollar bills to hand-out to the poor. Many of the street corner vendors earn less than $3 per day and it’s wonderful to watch the mothers’s face light-up when you hand them a five dollar bill!

Give the gift of livestock

According to our local guides, many of the poor people in South America do not handle cash well, and it’s sometimes best to buy them small farm animals. You can buy a case whole box of chickens for less than $5 and a whole family can have eggs and food for a long time. Plus, the chickens eat harmful bugs and their manure is very high in nitrogen.

Most city folks don’t know that it’s really easy to gift-wrap live chickens. Chickens have a darkness reflex and they go into a zombie-like state when the lights go out.

We stopped a local market and paired up sets of two laying hens with a nice rooster, placing the threesome in vented copy-paper boxes. Laden with 18 chickens sleeping soundly in their gift boxes, we set forth to the village. At the edge of town we stopped and got out of the car and directed our driver to give one box each to a worthy family. Perfecto!

Have your Christmas donation make a real difference

If you are not lucky enough to be near an impoverished village and you want your Christmas donations to go to people who really need your help, check out, a great charity to give live farm animals to the poor. Every penny counts and even $5 can make a big difference to a starving family.

For a huge treat, spend $500 and give a family a live cow, the gift that keeps on giving. They can drink the milk, use the manure for fertilizer and breed it to provide a cow for their neighbor. In Peru, you can donate a baby Llama so the family can harvest Alpaca, and your donation goes directly to those who are in-need.

It's Christmastime here in Ecuador, and even though there are no seasons at the equator, the locals have put together a great display of lights on their statue of the winged Virgin Mary.

To everyone, have a Happy Holiday!