Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 1, 2010

Philanthropus Selectus

It started out a few years ago as a small thing. The Counselor and I were considering what we could do to help improve the world, and to share some of our good fortune to help improve the lot of those less fortunate than we. After a lot of debate around the dining room table, after studying prospectuses and cruising the Web sites of philanthropic organizations, as well as checking in the indexes of watchdog organizations, we elected to make a small donation to the Fund For Improving the Lives of a Few Individuals (FFILFI). It made us feel good. We got a very nice letter from the head of FFILFI, and we got a newsletter that showed examples of how FFILFI was improving the lives of those few individuals.

Maybe six weeks later or so, we got an envelope from an organization called the Fund For Greatly Improving the Lives of Many People (FFGILMP). It turns out that, despite the efforts of the FFILFI, the need was bigger and more demanding than anyone had imagined, and if we could just find it in our hearts to give, the FFGILMP could use our funds immediately. In the same day’s mail was a message from the FFILFI, thanking us again for our contribution. They had a special campaign on that would provide matching funds for any contribution we gave in addition to our first donation, and would double the value of our gift. They thanked us again.

We thought it was a little soon for the FFILFI to be asking for more money. There is, after all, only a finite amount of cash available. The most unfortunate thing is that from feeling very positive about supporting FFILFI, in a few short weeks we had been made to feel that we were not doing our share. We put the letter from the FFGILMP aside, saying we’d think about it later in the year.

We continued to get notices from FFILFI and FFGILMP on a steady basis. A year passed, and we discussed what we would do for philanthropy THAT year. We gave again to FFILFI, because we continued to get good reports about what they were doing. In the mean time, we also had learned about STASTEWiP, the Society To Assist Trees, the Environment and Wild Places. They were doing wonderful things to protect the environment from becoming plutonium mines or ranches for Ted Turner, so we made them our second cause.

Almost immediately, we heard from FFILFI and STASTEWiP, thanking us for our donations, but in both cases, they needed more: FFILFI said the Many People had multiplied into Millions of People who needed help and STASTEWiP said Ted Turner had been spotted driving around North Dakota and inquiring about buying it. FFGILMP also wrote us again, hoping we would consider them this year.

In time, that little trickle of campaigning has become a flood. In the intervening years, one or both of our names has propagated outward from that first mailing list to the lists of untold number of worthy causes: the Confederation to Help the Agonized Millions, the International Rock, Tree and Root Society, the Retired Ham Operators Fund For Their Aging Household Pets and a Few Distant Relatives, and, most recently, Enthusiastic Veterans of Other Philanthropies Joining to Together to Assist Every Known Person, Object, Entity and Molecule in the Universe (EVOPJTAEKPOEMU!).

With this endless tide of mail, we have our own personal mail-sorting slot at local post office, our own ZIP code and a dedicated team of mail sorters and letter carriers, working in shifts. The USPS regularly sends a special envoy to thank us in person for all the mail we’ve generated and sends fruit at Christmas (via UPS!). In fact, they’ve kept the local branch open specifically to service our needs, despite all the budget cuts. They’ve recently added two vans, always standing by to deliver the sacks of letters, and they said if we ever need them to stop off and pick up a few things at Ralph’s or Home Depot, just give them a call. They’ll be passing right by the place.

All I can say is, if you win the lottery and you suddenly have a gazillion dollars, the first money you spend had better be to go buy the biggest mailbox you can find.

Seriously, there are thousands of worthy causes. One useful tool to use in evaluating how charities perform in using the funds they receive, operating ethically, efficiently and openly is Charity Navigator. They cover American charities. If you have other watchdog agencies to suggest, feel free to add a comment.

© 2013 Brad Nixon

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