I’ve been listening to NPR’s semi-annual fund raiser for a week, and frankly, I will be happy when it ends. I am a sustaining member of NPR, which means that a certain amount of money is automatically deducted from my bank account every month. NPR broadcasters are articulate and persuasive, and they get me every time. I keep increasing my contribution, which would be fine if this were the only place I was asked to donate. But, of course, it is not.
Here’s the problem: over the past few weeks, there have been three disastrous hurricanes and pleas for contributions. Watching the devastation was heart breaking. I clicked the contribution buttons. I stumbled on a Johnny Mathis special on public television. Of course, that was a fund raiser. How can you not support public TV when federal funding is shrinking for this type of programming?
I have a pile of forms on my desk from causes I really believe in. My email is overflowing with urgent requests from political candidates who support principles I believe in. There are telethons that shine a light on serious diseases and medical conditions. And on and on. There really is no end to the need for financial aid from the larger community.
There is, however, a limit to how much can contribute unless we are Bill and Melinda Gates’ league, which most writers are not. So, assuming you are willing to share some of your money, how do you decide what worthy cause or causes to write your check to?
I was on a roll until if realized I had to stop and ask myself that question. What was most important to me? Victims of natural disasters, fighting hate crimes, arthritis research, public broadcasting? This was an impossible question to answer. When everything matters and resources are limited, how does one decide? What criteria should I use?
Should I organize the pile by what are the most important issues to me as an individual? That would be arthritis research at the top, since I am an arthritis sufferer, and there doesn’t seem to be an effective therapy for the kind of arthritis I have. Or, if there is something I could take, it comes with unpleasant side effects.
Then there are the political issues I care about. I want to help elect progressive candidates to state and federal office and, by extension, to support planned parenthood, NARAL, and Emily’s list. I want to fund the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that fights hate groups and crimes. When there is an unexpected natural disasters, such as the recent hurricanes, I reach for my credit card.
Here is my proposed the solution: I am going to determine how much I can afford every month, earmark that amount for donations, and choose one contribution card from the pile. I could do that thoughtfully or with my eyes closed; it doesn’t really matter, since everything in the pile is important. If new request comes in, I will simply add it to the pile and get to it next month.
I may find this a completely unworkable approach, but at least it is a way to ease my troubled conscience.