Left Coast / Right Coast: Volunteer Work and Charity

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

I’m sure we all think we are generous people. That is, we give charity to those we think deserve it. Likewise, we volunteer (some of us) for work helping others.

Over the years I’ve evolved both my volunteer work as well as my charity giving. Some organized religions suggest that you tithe.  In fact, both the Old Testament and the New Testament do not specifically say you should give 10% of your annual income to your church.

Here’s how I decide on charity giving. First, I attempt to find out what percentage of one’s donation actually finds its way to the people to benefit from the contribution. There are many web sites, which purport to tell you what the “overhead” of a particular charity is. For example, the web site referenced above says the Red Cross has a 9% overhead cost. So for every dollar you give, 91 cents gets to those in need.

A rule of thumb is that if a charity does not give at least 75% to the recipients, then don’t donate to them. Frankly, I would find a 25% overhead far too high. On a $1 million donation (not uncommon for the better known national or international charities), $250,000 goes towards overhead.

Topping the list of the worst ranked charities in terms of overhead is the Kids Wish Network – which helps sick children. Only approximately 3% of the donations actually get to the children. So 97% of the donation goes to overhead. I wonder how many Rolls Royce’s the president of the organization has?

The President/CEO of NPR makes (to me) an obscene $623,000/year. What galls me is that they are always having these fund drives on their actual radio shows. You can’t escape them. And you will hear: “We’re trying to raise $8000 by the close of today’s show.” Clearly, trying to raise $8000 during a two hour show means they are asking the less fortunate listeners of NPR to donate $25 or $50 (if they are able – they always say). So NPR’s president is getting rich off the backs of those less fortunate.

Just this afternoon, our doorbell rang. Standing on our front stoop were two young men who wanted to know if I had found Jesus. (Forgive my sardonic sense of humor – but I told them I didn’t know he was lost.)

I watched these two walk up and down our street – which has some ferocious hills to climb, and knock on our neighbors’ doors. Perhaps they were legitimate, but being from NY City, one of the first things I thought of was: “Are these guys casing our neighborhood – to see who was or was not home during the day?

One thinks like this as panhandlers in just about every shopping center parking lot approach you these days. Sometimes, especially in crowded city centers, these people are also skilled pickpockets. If you decide to give them a $1, they then know exactly where your cash stash is.

One of my favorite panhandlers is at the exit of the Fred Meyer on Alderwood Mall Way. He is there most days along with his rather large dog. I can’t help but wonder if he is so destitute he needs to beg, then how does he afford dog food?

Regarding volunteering one’s time, I have done this consistently since my mid 30’s. What I’ve found is that: “If you give something to someone for free, they rarely appreciate it.

Examples of this are serving on the board of directors of a homeowners group. There you volunteer to help take care of the common areas in the development. What I didn’t like about that volunteer job was that all the residents act as if you worked for them (for pay). I can’t tell you about all the verbal abuse I received in that position. And for truly trivial (to me) items.

But not all volunteer work is like that. I currently volunteer at an assisted living facility near our home. I truly find that the elderly residents who attend my “current events” sessions are very appreciative of the effort. They, no matter what physical affliction they may have, participate in very lively discussions. And they always thank me at the end of each session.

All these experiences have made me believe that truly “charity starts at home.” So if you like I can give you my “go fund me” web site. And I promise that 100% of the donations will go to the Mike Gold fund.


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