Monday, December 5, 2011

Thoughts on holiday giving

It's December, which is of course a big month for charitable giving. Over at Good Intentions are Not Enough, Saundra Schimmelpfennig has prepared a Holiday Guide to Charitable Giving that offers practical thoughts and suggestions on selecting charities that, in the words of the Episcopal Church's Baptismal Covenant, "respect the dignity of every human being." I highly recommend it. I think it would also be a great study guide for church groups considering how to help those in need.

The main thing I would say is this: Beware of the curse of SWEDOW! SWEDOW is shorthand for "Stuff We Don't Want"--the things we give away to "the poor who might want it" when we clean out our closets and cupboards. As Saundra pointed out on an earlier post, when we do this, the problem we are trying to solve is not helping the poor in their poverty, but getting rid of clutter. As she puts it, "our waste is not the solution to other people’s problems, our waste is our problem."

Cartoon by Andy Dietsche

One of the hardest things I have had to do was throw away clothes. OK, there have been harder things, but it went against the grain. I wanted to give them away so that I didn't feel wasteful. But part of the lesson of SWEDOW is accepting that perhaps I have been wasteful and learning to deal with that, rather than assuaging my conscience and letting someone else deal with my trash as the trash it actually is.

Sometimes the best thing we can give organizations is our money. Maybe it makes us feel good to do something active or give something tangible, but the point is that charitable giving is not about what makes us feel good. That's just a side benefit. The real question is: What will actually help the people or cause we say we want to help? That's what we need to discern and do.

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