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God Squad: It's OK to be choosy about charities

December 28, 2012|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: Along with many other people, I've sent contributions to favorite charities through the mail. Unfortunately, this has landed me on a lot of mailing lists, and I now receive far too many pleas for money from benevolent organizations and institutions. My main objection is to requests that include "gifts," some fairly costly. What is my obligation here?

Obviously, I can't send money to all the groups that solicit me, but I feel guilty about the gifts, either discarding them or even using some items. The post office won't return this type of mail to the sender. I'm sure other people are in the same position and would appreciate your addressing our dilemma.

I look forward to your column each week in Newsday, and, as a Catholic, I'm impressed by how you address Christian issues with insight and sensitivity. — C., Long Island, New York, via godsquadquestion@aol.com

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A: I've been telling people for years that giving away money is easier than making money — but not that much easier. Your letter offers one example of how sometimes goodness is its own punishment.

The first thing all givers should do is check out the charities they're considering for donations. Internet sites like charitynavigator.org, bbb.org (give.org), givewell.org and guidestar.org provide reviews of the governance and overhead costs for many charities.

In general, a charity should consume less than 30% of donations for administrative costs. A charity should also have a firm policy of not sharing or selling your name to other charities. If you still find yourself inundated with unwanted appeals, don't feel guilty throwing out the appeals and so-called gifts, sent only so you'll feel guilty and pay for the gift you didn't ask for in the first place. I would not use such gifts.

If a gift is a holy object, you should not, of course, toss it in the trash but dispose of it respectfully in a manner appropriate to your faith and its customs. Under Jewish law, anything with God's name on it must be buried in a cemetery. My general rule is to seek out the charities to which I donate; I don't wait for them to find me.

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