Sunday, September 2, 2012

Charity Cases

Hello Polite Readers!

Once again I'm going to touch on a general problem instead of a specific letter. This week we're talking about how to politely deal with charity requests. Whether you're an artist, a crafter, a performer, a business owner, or just someone with extra money, you probably have to field a lot of requests for donations.

I used to lurk on an etiquette forum where a favorite phrase was "No is a complete sentence." It was a concise way of reminding people that you don't need to explain yourself or make excuses. I like this advice in general, but it can come across as a little blunt, especially on the internet. If someone asks you for help and you send back a one-word e-mail, they're probably going to be a little hurt or offended. You may not mind that if it's an unsolicited charity request, but if it's a friend asking for help, you may need to be a bit more gentle.

You may notice that it sounds like I'm assuming that you want to turn down all charity requests. Of course this is not the case. But if you give to everyone who asks, you're going to get stretched thin and possibly end up donating to causes you actually don't support, just because a friend asks. You need to set boundaries! Either decide how much you are willing to donate each year, or what sort of charity you want to focus on, or better yet, do both.

For me personally, I have one charity that I donate my beadwork to every year, and I will throw a bit of money into the hat to help people in my community. I am also the sucker who will pretty much always give a little money to a pet charity. I love animals!

So what should you do when you can't give anymore? I recommend saying something like this:

Dear Friend,

I'm sorry, but I've reached my limit on donations this year. However, this looks like a really good group, so I will share your fundraiser on my blog/Facebook and hopefully some of my followers can help! I wish you all the best, keep up the great work.

This allows you to be polite, and still help out by spreading the word. This is ideal for those times when you want to help. Feel free to add an explanation if it's a simple conflict, ie "My troupe would love to perform at your fundraiser because it's a cause we can all get behind, but we're already committed to another gig on that night. Please keep us in mind for your future events!" or "I'm sorry, the bracelet that you asked me to donate is already promised to another customer. Can I donate this necklace instead?"

For the times when you don't want to help, because you are being asked to donate to something that you are opposed to, for whatever reason, keep it short and to the point. "I'm sorry, I'm unable to donate to this." Unless you know the person is open to debate and having their mind changed, don't say that you're not donating because you think it's a horrible charity. No one wants to be made to feel guilty when they think they're doing good work, especially not if they've already donated their money! Just wait for an opportune moment further down the road to try to steer them to a more worthy charity.

Now what about unsolicited charity solicitations? Ugh. It's one thing to get a request from a friend, or from a group you've donated to in the past. But to get out-of-the-blue requests from someone you don't know, representing a group you've never heard of? I really don't like it. Doubly so when it's a group that has nothing to do with anything I am involved in. If someone contacts me and says "Hey, I see you have corgis, we're trying to raise money to expand our corgi rescue operation" then that makes sense. But if a black lab rescue group is contacting me just because I make jewelry, and they want jewelry? No.

I'm not saying that you can't accept unsolicited requests, because of course it's your money/time/art, you can use it as you like. And maybe sometimes a group will contact you and you realize that they're doing something you're really into and you want to help. But in general, I don't like to encourage this sort of behavior. I think that most charity requests like this rely on a certain sense of guilt. You can't say NO to CHARITY! And all they're asking for is a 20 minute performance by your troupe...

Before you say yes, do your research. Make sure that the group is reputable, or if it's a more personal matter of someone raising money for an ill family member or other small local charity, see if you can verify the facts. Also, determine how much impact your donation is going to have. I am pretty into the idea of donating my jewelry for a raffle or auction, because that's directly raising money that might help many people. I am not into donating my jewelry to be given to someone, because that's helping one person, and how much are they really helped by having a pretty piece of jewelry? Unless it's a child's dying wish to have the world's largest bracelet collection before they die, one bracelet is not going to have much impact.

Saying no to an unsolicited request is easy. Don't let the guilt get to you! Say something sweet and to the point like this.

Thank you for your message. I am sure your group does great work, but I am unable to donate to you. Please take me off of your list.

By the way, if they have contacted you via Etsy, this is another Etsy TOS violation! I promise that not all of my posts will be about Etsy's TOS, but I have to write about what I've experienced! If you'd like to see a bit more variety, please E-Mail Me and maybe your letter will be here next week.

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