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Charity

No reason to give the same boring gifts this year. Our holiday gift guide offers creative and inexpensive gift ideas that your friends and family will love.holiday gift guide

Christmas is right around the corner. Do you have all of your gift shopping done yet?

If you’re anything like me, the answer is no. This isn’t because I’m a procrastinator, though. It’s because I would prefer to give a gift that’s unique and has meaning instead of some stereotypical consumer item that will probably wind up in the Goodwill pile at some point.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of ideas, so that you can change the way you give gifts this holiday season. Some will save you money, and some will be incredibly useful. Others will give you (and your recipient) a warm fuzzy feeling inside, which rivals that of any mug of hot cocoa.

Get out your gift-giving lists, and let’s get started!

Charitable Giving

There are some wonderful opportunities to do good while also giving to your friends and loved ones. Regardless of your budget, you can make charitable causes part of your family’s holiday season.

You can donate to one of your favorite causes, or one which aligns with the interests of the recipient. No matter which you choose, there are simple ways to make a doubly-impactful gift this holiday season.

Buy holiday cards that support your charity of choice

If you’re going to buy cards this year anyway, why not see if your favorite charity has anything to offer? Not only do you show your support, but you may find interesting, unique cards that stand out.

  • Children’s Art Project (from MD Anderson) offers various items, including holiday cards, that feature their young patients’ art. This gives kids a way to showcase their designs. And net proceeds from sales help to fund the hospital’s pediatric programs.
  • Holiday Card Center has a stunning array of cards in various designs. They partner up with a number of non-profit organizations, such as the American Humane Society. About 10% of the cost of each box goes to the charity.
  • The Make-A-Wish Foundation will actually personalize and mail cards out for you, if you wish to make a gift on someone else’s behalf. You can also order blank cards and send them yourself. Or send an e-card to let someone know you made a donation in their name.
  • The American Diabetes Association lets you personalize cards regardless of whether you are making a gift donation as well.

Buy gifts that provide a percentage to charity

Donate to charity as a gift

  • Oceana offers a holiday adopt-a-creature program. For $30, you can adopt a sea turtle, seal, or one of 16 other sea creatures. You’ll receive a cookie cutter in the shape of that creature and a special sugar cookie recipe. Spend a little more, and you’ll receive a cute plush of that animal, too. It’s a nice way to donate while still having a fun gift for the recipient to open and enjoy.
  • Oxfam America offers you the unique opportunity to present your friends and family with the donation of a sheep, goat, or even a toilet. Wait, what? With Oxfam, your funds help provide necessities to growing, impoverished communities worldwide. Then, choose from a number of humorous, fun cards to give to your recipient, telling them about the gift made in their honor. How else could you possibly gift wrap a camel?
  • Heifer International also donates livestock to countries in need. You can choose from a variety of animals, including a water buffalo for $250.
  • American Forests lets you plant trees in the name of a loved one for $1 a tree.
  • Alternative Gifts International offers truly impactful gifts of food, shelter, trees, gardens, and medicines to those in need around the world.

Not sure what charity would be most fitting? JustGive.org sells gift certificates recipients can redeem for any of 1,000,000 charities and nonprofit organizations.

Go Clutter-Free

Another unique holiday gift option if you want to avoid waste is to buy clutter-free gifts. These can be in the form of experiences or consumables. I usually opt to do both. In fact, in my family, we’ve opted to buy “experiences, not things” for our primary gifts to one another. Then we buy useful (consumable) items for stocking stuffers.

While experiences are great gifts that bring memories for years, consumables give you something to open and enjoy Christmas morning.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry

Unclutterer.com has some nice suggestions for theme-based consumable gift collections, such as bulbs and seeds for a gardener, spice collections for someone who enjoys cooking, and the always-popular bath sundries collection for anyone who enjoys self-pampering. There’s even a very utilitarian garage-themed collection idea with motor oil, work gloves, etc.

My tastes run a bit more colorful. I believe the holidays provide a great chance to give premium consumables, little luxuries life might not otherwise afford us.

My favorite food and drink gifts include:

  • Aged Balsamic Vinegar – It’s a surprisingly flexible gift, suitable for everything from salad dressings and bread dips (include some fresh loaves of bread for an irresistible gift basket), to marinades and even as a topping for ice cream. There are a range of prices and qualities available. You could even print out some relevant recipes and include them, too!
  • Wine–It’s even better when paired with a gift certificate to a BYOB restaurant and maybe a cute tote. But there’s so much you can do with wine gifts. Give a nice bottle you’ve tried and enjoyed, different vintages of the same wine, or a selection of bottles from a region with accompanying reading material on that region’s wines. These can all make a memorable gift. You can find nice, well-rated wines for less than $20 a bottle. Wine Club memberships are wonderful, too, if you have the budget.
  • Say Cheese!–Last year, one of the best gifts I got was a stylish, reusable tote filled with a variety of fine imported cheeses, candied nuts, and crackers. Food gifts made for sharing are perfect for holiday entertaining. Plenty of places out there sell pre-assembled gift baskets. But I think the best approach is to find a local cheese shop or market and try things out yourself. Add fresh or dried fruit and nuts, and you can make your own extravagant gift for much less than you’d pay at Harry and David or Williams-Sonoma.
  • Sweets–Who doesn’t love a little indulgence? Last year, I gave my father-in-law a set of dark chocolate bars made from cocoa beans from different countries, for a comparative tasting. Homemade cookies or cakes are always appreciated, and can provide a more economical gift alternative. I’m also partial to Dutch candy for a fun and inexpensive gift.
  • Citrus Fruit–Sweeter than candy, the juice from Temple oranges is a rare treat in the cold winter months. I order them now for delivery January through March from Nokomis Groves. You could make a fabulous gift basket around a citrus gift (think breakfast kit), or let its sunny glory stand alone.
  • Salumis, Seafood, and Special Meats–Salami, bacon, prosciutto, ham, smoked turkey, scallops, salmon… whether you spend a lot for a fine imported meat or seafood product or assemble your own basket from a local specialty shop, there’s much to choose from.

You may be seeking truffles from France or salumis from Italy. Either way, finding a great source is key. If you can’t find these imported items at a local market, you can find them at a markup at places like Dean & Deluca. You can also try your luck finding better deals and culinary rarities at sites like eFood Depot, Gustiamo (Italian), La Tienda (Spanish), and French Feast.

Amazon has a great collection of gift baskets worth checking out. You can also take a look at Food411’s Holiday Picks or browse Sur la Table for more inspired gift ideas.

Spoil Someone

If food isn’t your ideal gift (or you’re unsure whether the recipient has dietary concerns), you can always opt to pamper them.

  • Soap and Bath Products–Soaps make for a great gift basket but are easily used up, so they don’t contribute to clutter. One of my friends makes her own fantastic-smelling, all-natural olive oil soap and bath products. She had a home show this year where I bought soaps for just about everyone I know. I tried to select scents each individual will love. It should be fun to see how accurate I was predicting their fragrance preferences. And anything I don’t give away, I’ll just use up myself.
  • Massages, Pedicures, and Spa Treatments–Beauty supplies are a clear winner when combined with gift certificates for massages, pedicures, facials, and other spa treatments. In my book, there’s no such thing as too many massages, and it’s nice to look forward to some luxury. Pick a local spa, or visit SpaWish.com for a gift certificate good at over 1,000 day spas across the nation.
  • eSubscriptions, Media, and Content–With all the interesting videos, music, games, and books available via iTunes, it’s hard to imagine anyone not appreciating an iTunes Gift Card. I’ve heard great things about Audible.com, as well. Their electronic book and programming subscriptions start as low as $7.49 a month for the first three months with the AudibleListener program.
  • The Gift of More Time–Take a page from Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Workweek and help someone “outsource” time-consuming or unpleasant tasks. Whether you supply a bevy of homemade frozen meals or set up a running engagement with a personal chef, your gift will directly benefit the recipient’s quality of life. Maid service, child care, and gardening or landscaping services are gifts they’ll remember all year. Plus, they can be accomplished by hiring out or (more economically) by helping out and doing it yourself.

Make Something With Love

Homemade gifts can be so much more than the sum of their parts, which makes them a great frugal gift option. They are redolent of effort, of “I thought of you all year and worked on this for you.” This is a nice contrast to “I realized I needed a gift for you ten minutes ago and picked this up as I was driving here.”

MoneySavingMom has an extensive collection of frugal gift ideas. Some of my favorite homemade gifts from her list include:

  • Homemade baking mixes
  • Embroidered pillowcases
  • Hand-stamped notecards
  • Personalized CDs (with music, family photos, etc.)
  • Custom-made photo calendars (every grandparent I know adores these)
  • Homemade food, including freezer-ready quick meals and baked goods (I am seriously asking my mother-in-law for a giant vat of her famous tomato soup for the holidays this year)
  • Canned vegetables, jam, pickles, etc.
  • Scarves, sweaters, and other knitted/crocheted goodies
  • Fleece throw blankets
  • Homegrown organic dried herbs (in a charming little jar, what could be better?)

I’ve been blessed with some very creative friends, so in the past I’ve received amazing scarves, jewelry, gorgeous embroidered pillowcases, and even original artwork. This year, one of my good friends knitted me some very chic, pure-white cashmere gloves.

My own talents are more culinary than crafty. So this year, I’m giving out tins of several varieties of homemade cookies and a few premade freezer meals, like lasagna, for those in my life who don’t enjoy cooking as much as I do. If you’re not inclined to create gifts yourself, you can buy amazing and unique handmade gifts of all sorts at Etsy.com.

From the Heart

This ties in a bit with the last section. But the ultimate “handmade” gift may not be a thing at all but, instead, a service. I love the concept of lending your personal services to someone else, especially in this age of so little free time.

If you’re good at sewing, what about giving certificates for mending and tailoring clothing? Or giving proofreading or resume help to someone still in school? Know someone who travels a lot? A few certificates for rides to and from the airport could be just the thing. Or create a scrapbook or photo album for someone with lots of memories and no time to compile them. Babysitting, yard cleanup, etc. are all gifts that cost little except your time.

What are the best gifts you’ve ever received (or given) that weren’t “typical” or even store-bought? Can you think of any other unique holiday gift ideas? Share them below!

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If you’ve been online in the past week or two, you have no doubt seen viral videos of strangers — and maybe even your friends — dumping buckets of ice over their heads. There is a charitable cause behind these videos. Most, or at least some, of the cold, soaked folks are accepting the challenge to support the ALS Association, a non-profit organization that provides support for research, assistance for people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), and coordination of care, and the organization advocates for its cause through political lobbying.

Does dumping ice on your head have anything to do with curing a disease, and does it matter? I suppose the answer to both questions is no. There seem to be some disagreements about who started this latest craze. People have been dousing themselves with water to bring attention to causes for a while, but someone wishing to support the ALS Association caught onto this idea and it has certainly captured a lot of people’s attention.

And it’s working. According to the ALS Association, the organization has received $22.9 million in charitable donations between July 29 and August 19. For some context, that collection compares with just $1.9 million raised during the same time period last year, during which time no viral video was asking people to support the ALS Association. That is massively impressive. Good job, everyone who donated.

Still, more questions need to be asked. The ALS Association explains that the increase in donations come from both existing donors — those who have historically supported the organization — as well as 453,210 new donors. Presumably 453,210 persons or thereabouts were inspired by the video to do something they wouldn’t have otherwise done. And existing donors might have increased their normal contributions to be part of the frenzy.

How much of the $22.9 million has come from these 453,210 individuals? Are we looking at a case where a small group of major donors seized the opportunity to help the organization manifold, while your average ice bucket warrior kept their contributions slim? Does the organization even know what to do with $22.9 million?

Before I contribute to an organization, I like to know a little more about it, beyond the mission statement, beyond the marketing. The most important thing is whether the organization is a good charity, and that could mean many different things. Is the organization’s mission in line with something I’m passionate about and interested in? Are the executives taking care of the money they receive?

In the case of the ALS Association, the non-profit’s 11 executives earned $1.8 million in salary for the tax year ending January 2014. Another $950,000 was spent by the organization for marketing consultants. The organization raised a total of $23.6 million in funds that year, and only $363,000 of that was from government grants. During that year, only two individual donated more than $5,000 to the organization; one contributed $5.75 million and the other gave $500,000. While this doesn’t guarantee how people donated this year, it does seem like a good portion of contributions come from small donations like those that might result from a campaign like the ice bucket challenge. This is encouraging.

Here’s the organization’s explanation for the $5.75 million contribution:

In December 2013, the association received a bequest totaling $5,750,000, establishing a term endowment according to designations made by the donor. The proceeds of this bequest are to be maintained by the association in an endowment fund for a period of ten years. Earnings from the fund are restricted to support research and may be spent on a current basis.

The ALS Association’s total expenses in the last fiscal year wee $26.2 million, up from $25.7 million the prior year. These expenses include research grants, patient and community services, public and professional education, fundraising, and administration. Those administration expenses are 7.3% of the total. Charity Navigator, a company that rates non-profit organizations, comes up with a different result of 11% using the prior year’s financials, but considers that to be relatively efficient and provides the organization with an overall four-star rating.

The CEO received total compensation last year totaling $362,458. Is that the right price to pay for a non-profit CEO for a company with annual expenditures of more than $25 million? Maybe. Or maybe knowing the CEO is in a financial position those with ALS would like to find themselves in makes the idea of supporting the organization less tasteful. I do know that running a non-profit organization like the ALS Association is complex and difficult, yet an established organization certainly takes advantage of the willingness of people to support that organization — whether it’s smart people and consultants to advise the CEO or whether it’s the corps of thousands of volunteers who assist non-profit organization through some of the less sophisticated tasks of operating the programs.

Taking all things into consideration, the ALS Association seems to be on solid financial footing and is actively working towards its mission. The money raised by the organization has historically been distributed through grants from the ALS Association to groups doing the hands-on work in research in care, hospitals and universities. Judging by their financial disclosures, their IRS Form 990, and their reviews, you can feel confident giving to the organization.

There has certainly been some criticism in social media about the ice bucket challenge. Many challengers passed along the message by asking that the people they “nominate” either dump a bucket of ice water on their head or donate. This has stirred backlash — other people believe that people should donate regardless of whether they want to record and share a video of an impromptu ice shower. And there are always a good percentage of people who take the challenge, sharing videos with their friends on Facebook, without even mentioning ALS or otherwise identifying the purpose of the video.

But if the numbers can be believed, it’s working. It doesn’t even matter that some people are dumping water and maintaining the virality of the cause without donating or without mentioning ALS. In this case, it’s working, because the medium is so large, the message is getting through. Assuming the ALS Association is not behind this, and that it is a true grassroots campaign, this is a beautiful situation for the organization. Usually, you have to spend a lot of money on marketing to raise funds like this, and companies that handle the fundraising often take a significant piece of the revenue.

For example, hiring a company to handle telemarketing keeps some of the most important outreach work for an organization manageable, but a company that raises $133,000 might keep $111,000 for itself, leaving only $22,000 to the organization it’s working for. $22,000 is better than nothing, but it’s just a portion of the total raised.

In this case, I have to side with the supporters of the ALS ice bucket challenge, not the critics. In other cases, yes, acting foolish on social media in support of a cause, without even mentioning that cause, could backfire. People who have no concept of charity will naturally join in on the fun when they see their friends and strangers doing it. It reminds me of the planking meme from a few years ago. There was no organization to support, just a feeling of inclusion in a popular movement. Luckily for ALS, the penetration of the ice bucket challenge meme is so high that even if 60 percent of video participants have no idea about ALS and neglect to donate money, the benefit to the organization is still fantastic.

If you do choose to participate, you should focus on ALS and give to charity yourself, to the extent that it fits in with your budget, whether it’s $1, $5, $100, or more. Then again, if you don’t give, even if you don’t mention ALS, in this case you are likely still helping the organization. However, you could look at the recent figures and determine your $100 amid a haystack of $22.9 million in one month has diminishing returns for the organization this year, and might do better for an organization that receives much less public attention — at least this month. There are many ways to look at the situation to determine whether you should participate and donate.

Some of the other criticisms of the challenge don’t really stand up to scrutiny. Is it a waste of water? The amount of water needed for the challenge is negligible, but could be seen as a waste in areas where there is a drought. Is it a case of “slacktivism,” where people can feel good about “supporting” an organization without really doing anything? Maybe, but if so, just throwing money at a problem is the same thing — the real charity is donating time and effort. What I don’t like is that this is an indicator of how culture is changing from an externally-focused, doing-good model to a look-at-me-I’m-doing-good model. Celebrities are jumping in on the craze. I’ve even seen friends use the ice bucket videos to market their businesses or “personal brands.” The self-centered trend runs counter to altruism, empathy, and charity, so it’s interesting to see this combination of people drawing attention to themselves in addition to the disease.

Will you do take the ALS ice bucket challenge? Donate to the ALS Association here.

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I attended two colleges. My undergraduate degree was earned at a university that is considered both private and public; it has a private charter and obtains a good portion of its funding from the private sector, but it does receive some state assistance and was a land-grant university. Years after completing my bachelor’s degree, I received my master’s degree from a for-profit university, and I’ve discussed my experience there in great detail on Consumerism Commentary.

Once my net worth was on its path towards growth every month, and particularly when my income through business ownership was beyond my expectations, I began thinking more seriously about my approach to charity. Outside of Consumerism Commentary, I’ve always been involved with arts and education, and that’s where I initially decided to focus most of my charitable attention.

Over the course of the growth of Consumerism Commentary as a business, I turned some of the site’s profit into charity on behalf of the business itself and towards goals that were in line with the business’s own mission. When DonorsChoose.org, a site that helps people raise money for educational projects, was new, I promoted a financial literacy challenge.

In following years, I organized a charitable matching program to raise money for various causes. Readers could contribute to any charity they like, and if they sent a receipt to me, I would match their contribution with one from Consumerism Commentary to a charity I selected each year. One year it was the World Food Programme, another year the choice was Médecins Sans Frontières, both in response to timely world events.

I worked for a non-profit arts education organization after graduating college, as faithful Consumerism Commentary readers may know, so I designated that organization as the recipient of some of my personal charitable contributions. With the help of Fidelity, I created a charitable gift fund which allowed me to make it easy to donate money to organizations whose missions I felt passionate about, including that non-profit and my undergraduate alma mater.

Offering charity to a university is a strange concept. Most colleges are not hurting for money. And when I recently read a short article by Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, I considered changing my entire approach. Matthew attended an elite private high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Harvard University. In his experience, higher education does not need any help from people like me — those earning a healthy living and having the opportunity to make occasional gifts to their colleges.

In 2012, Harvard University’s endowment fund totaled $30 billion. My $1,000, $10,000, or even $100,000, won’t make that much of a difference to that particular university in the grand scheme of things, and it’s understandable that Matthew Yglesias wants to bring this to the attention of would-be donors. My own undergraduate university has an endowment fund valued at just above $1 billion, which is still a healthy value.

But the way I made my relatively small contributions matter was by designation the funds to be used for something specific. This ensured that my money was not necessarily contributing to the excesses in administration or cosmetic changes to campus. With every donation, I targeted the growth of programs within my academic interests. Unlike Harvard or another elite university, I knew that the funds, small as they were, would go beyond the students from financially comfortable families and help those with a variety of financial conditions.

Of course, I do recognize that I’m not helping the impoverished when I donate anything to my university. Although my classmates came from diverse backgrounds, it’s not as diverse as a community college. And if I wanted to help those who most needed financial assistance, I’d need to stay away from secondary education completely.

The idea Matthew Yglesias offered, suggesting charitable money would be better spent by giving it to a “homeless person on the street,” is out of the question — there’s no guarantee that any particular homeless person would be able to use random donations to improve his or her situation. At least with the donation to my university, I’m confident that the money I offered must be used towards my designation — that’s a legal requirement.

Tomorrow, I will be having lunch with a director of development from my undergraduate alma mater. We plan to discuss the options for a larger charitable contribution, although I’m still waiting to hear back from my tax accountant who will answer some questions about tax effectiveness. With the changes to my income situation over the past few years and moving forward, I want to make sure that I make the best choices from a tax perspective in terms of timing.

Through the meeting with the director of development, I hope to gain a better understanding of my choices for giving and how I can make an impact both on my areas of passion, as diverse as they are, and my desire to benefit students who might not have certain opportunities available to them because of financial need. Despite my disagreement with the article published in Slate, it raised a few concerns that I want to address with my charitable plan.

Do you donate money to your university?

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I’m a sympathetic person. I really am, and sometimes my sympathy has aided me in making bad choices.

But I have no patience for people who pretend to be in some kind of destitute condition, a performance entirely possible through the anonymity on the internet, and beg for money. It’s a strategy — a scam — that works, unfortunately. If you have a nice story to tell, no matter if it’s true, thousands of people will be attracted to that story. If you ask for it, people will send you money out of kindness.

Today is Giving Tuesday, so it’s an opportunity to look at a story that has been in the news recently related to a charitable scam.

Recently, Linda Walther Tirado, also known online as KillerMartinis, concocted and published a short story about living on poverty. In reality, Linda may have had some financial struggles, or at least might have been living on a low income, but allegedly not due to poverty or her upbringing. Her story was thoroughly debunked by a researcher who found other conflicting details about this person’s identity, but Linda’s damage, in the form of attracting kind readers to offer financial help, was done.

From Houston Press:

The real Linda owns a home, thanks to some pretty generous parents… She’s married to a Marine, has met President Obama while interning for a politician…, and has plenty of time to visit Las Vegas on vacation. And blog about her privileged life on WordPress… She speaks both German and Dutch, and has a well-rounded political blog that ended in 2011. It’s also a blog where she quite plainly references being paid to win races.

Her story, which the author and other observers claim has “gone viral” — I didn’t hear about it until the debunking also went viral — generated a generous outpouring of contributions that are still coming in. Her GoFundMe page has raised over $62,000 to help this cyberbeggar allegedly pay for dental bills, but she intends to use the money for other purposes: to shop a book around to publishers, to quit her day job, and to give some away. (GoFundMe is a website that allows individuals raise money, usually for small start-up businesses or projects.)

My opinion on the matter is clear: if you lie as Linda allegedly has, and you use that lie to manipulate sympathetic people to part with their money, you are a scammer. And scammer is putting it nicely. (This is also why I don’t like marketers.)

If the $62,000 is an accumulation of mostly small donations like $5 or $10, most contributors did not risk much. Looking through the list of recent donations via the author’s GoFundMe website, most seem to be $10, with others going as high as $50. On an individual level, a small donation doesn’t look so bad; it’s not much different than when you give a few dollars to someone sitting on the street with a cardboard sign. The more entertaining or clever the sign, the more likely it is that a passerby will hand over a five dollar bill.

You don’t know who this person is. You’d like to think he or she will use your money to buy a sandwich or start collecting for some new business clothes so he or she can look appropriate at a job. For $5, it doesn’t hurt your wallet and you can rid yourself of that guilty feeling you get when a homeless person looks you in the eye. It’s a low risk donation. If it turns out to be a scam, you’ve only wasted $5.

Those who contributed to her collection of more than $62,000 are adults. They are free to make their own decisions about how to spend and donate their money. You can only make good decisions when you have all of the information available to you. People who donated believed the story they were told about the author’s live in poverty.

Karyn Bosnak was the first majorly successful cyberbeggar. But at least with the writing on her website, SaveKaryn, the stories are believed to be true. Karyn SaveKaryn, spent more than she was earning through shopping and fully admitted to her unfettered credit card use. She offered details on the consumer debt she acquired and asked her website’s followers to contribute money to help her pay off her credit card debt. After raising the $20,000 she needed to pay off her debt, she stopped asking for donations.

Why would people help someone whose financial situation was a result of his or her own bad choices? Sympathy and compassion. It’s good to know these are still valued personality traits. Because Karyn’s approach to cyberbegging worked, perhaps just being truthful about your situation will be just as effective as lying if you write well and are able to attract attention.

Although she was truthful about her problem, I didn’t like SaveKaryn’s financial begging from the beginning. There were much more worthy causes for charity than a girl with a good income and a spending problem. Collecting donations wasn’t going to solve a shopaholic’s problem, just enable her to continue to make poor money management choices.

But pretending to be someone you’re not in order to gain sympathy is unethical. It’s manipulative. With Karyn, donors knew they were giving money to someone who didn’t need help. In Linda Walther Tirado’s case, donors were conned into believing their donations were going to a case worthy of charitable contributions. Contributors believed they were helping someone who was living in poverty through little fault of her own.

So while on an individual level, a $20 donation might not hurt the uninformed donor. If the $20 ends up not helping someone raise herself out of poverty, the harm is minor. But collectively, the idea that someone can earn a living by asking for small donations based on a fabricated story encourages others to do the same. Every small donation legitimizes cyberbegging. Every $5, $10, or $50 contribution helps scammers believe that it’s not a problem to use lies to con the public.

Here at Consumerism Commentary, Naked With Cash has featured people in worse financial condition that the real Linda Walther Tirado. Not once have they written — even implied — that they would accept financial contributions from readers to help improve their situation. That would just be unfathomable to me, and I wouldn’t allow Consumerism Commentary to become a vehicle for such activity.

No one is required to give charity only to the needy. I used to work for a non-profit organization whose programs did benefit young people in low socio-economic status neighborhoods, but the vast majority of students who benefited from the programs were comfortably situated in the middle class. This wasn’t a charity for the poor, but an educational program that supported what students might be getting from their own schools, and made some of those school programs possible.

We collected donations because the programs we ran required a large operating budget, benefited tens of thousands of kids under the age of twenty-one, and didn’t generate much income. It was harder to draw donations, I think, because many of these children were not in desperate financial condition (although some were), so we had to appeal to the part of the soul that prioritizes arts education.

Ask questions before you give any money. People like Linda Walther Tirado will continue to take advantage of the kindness of strangers. I don’t think we can ever get to the point at which the public as a whole refuses to give money to scammers and they just give up. Nevertheless, it’s important not to contribute to the encouragement of this behavior. The only way you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a liar’s scam like this is to not blindly give away your money, even if it is only $50.

If you read someone’s sad story and are compelled to give money, take some time to think about it first. Do some research.

Don’t give money an an individual. Consider giving the same amount of money to a charitable organization that has a good record of using donor’s money towards a mission you believe in. Don’t be a sucker with your money. When you give to a reputable charitable organization, there’s a record of your donation and oversight of the group’s activities.

Use your compassion in a way that will actually help someone who needs it or that supports a mission you believe in. Helping legitimize a cyberbeggar is not a good use of your charitable dollars, even five of them.

Photo: Flickr/Adrian Miles

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Do You Cede Control When You Give Money?

by Luke Landes

If a friend or relative comes to you and asks to borrow money, it’s rarely a good idea to offer a loan. If the person in question does need financial help and you’re in a position to offer them a gift, without any strings attached, without the gift interrupting your own financial goals, it might […]

8 comments Read the full article →

What To Do If You’ve Donated to a Fraudulent Charity

by Luke Landes

It happened after September 11, Katrina, Sandy, the Boston Marathon, and other disasters, man-made and natural, around the world. After serious tragedies, when a compassionate public is at its most vulnerable, unscrupulous individuals find taking advantage the world’s generosity comes easy. Within hours — even minutes — of the news, new operations spring up, offering […]

5 comments Read the full article →

Giving Tuesday: Turning Black Friday on Its Head

by Luke Landes

It’s approaching that time of year again. The holiday shopping season, with the massive retail marketing campaigns surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday, will be the industry’s final major push in an attempt to turn consumer confidence around and inspire spending. Over the past two years, companies have seen the potential social media — communication […]

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PayPal Makes Accepting Charity Difficult

by Luke Landes

Around the holidays, for-profit companies see an opportunity to do something charitable, even though they’re not technically registered non-profit organizations. The concept reminds me of college. I was in my university’s marching band, and we frequently traveled as a group to performances. At the end of the trips, someone on the bus collected money from […]

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Year End Reminder: Donate to Charity

by Luke Landes
Charity Box

The year is quickly coming to a close, and the first priority for many people right now is getting through the holidays with as little stress as possible. Focusing solely on the holidays at the expense of your household’s financial needs can only add to stress later, so it might help to get a few […]

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Tax Deduction for Time Spent Volunteering

by Luke Landes
Volunteer

I recently received reader feedback from a conscious saver who is planning to move his money from Wells Fargo to a credit union. She won’t make the Bank Transfer Day November 5 goal, because the credit union’s branch is planned to open November 7. This reader plans to be one of the new branch’s first […]

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