Forced Donations: A Nuisance or a Necessity

by on December 15, 2010 · 8 comments

Charities have taken quite a hit in the last few years. As American’s wallets became more and more pinched, donating to the Salvation Army at Christmas time or to the food bank became a luxury item. What is the result? While alcohol consumption remained largely unchanged throughout the recession, charitable donations decreased by 3.6%. On top of this reduction in donations, demand has spiked.

Nonprofit organizations and charities are in quite the pickle. And just like the airline industry has people working ‘round the clock to figure out ways to squeeze money out of us in every possible way (like playing a movie and then charging $2 for the only type of headphones that fit in the oddly shaped socket), I am getting the feeling that charities are doing the same in order to survive.

Enter the “forced donation”. A donation by definition is something that you willingly and voluntarily give to an organization, a cause, or a person. But what happens when in order to make a purchase, you must donate money? Can it really be called a “donation” anymore?  Let me give you an example. Several months back several organizations within Houston sponsored an event where you could purchase a composter or rain barrel for half the price of what you could find on the market. You had to come downtown and stand in line, and it was for as long as supplies lasted. The good news was that you could order one ahead of time and be guaranteed whichever you wanted; however, the organization that gave this service added a $10 donation to the tab. I called the organization, which referred me to the city of Houston, which referred me to the mayor’s office…and there was no way around the $10 donation (not sure why they referred me to the Mayor’s office…I am sure she has much more important things to worry about). In this case, the organization was offering a service to me that they could have legitimately charged for. However, they chose to call it a donation without giving me the option to opt-out.

And this is not only occurring within organizations; what about the homeless man on the corner with his bucket of water and squeegee who washes my window whether or not I want him to? The idea is not that I am donating money to him, but rather that he has rendered a service and I now owe him money. After all, my windshield is clean.

If I purchase something at a normal price and some of the proceeds happen to go to a charitable organization, then that is a win-win-win transaction—for the consumer who purchased the product they wanted, for the nonprofit which received a donation, and for the store which moves inventory. This occurred last summer when I took Paul out for a birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant which was taking part in a citywide night for charity. Not only was part of the proceeds from our dinner going to help the Houston Food Bank, but the restaurant further enticed customers by offering a three-course meal at a discounted price. This also occurs for National Breast Cancer pink products where the products are typically normal cost, and so I choose products in the pink packaging versus their normal packaging. But if I wish to purchase something and there is a forced additional fee that goes directly to a charity, then I feel I am being forced to donate.

Here’s the thing: I am very supportive of charities and greatly appreciate the social work that they do and the need that they fill. But I want to be in the position to choose who I give my money to without feeling guilty, intimidated, or otherwise put into a situation where I am being forced to make a donation.

Are there times when you have been forced into making a donation, perhaps literally, or because you have felt obligated or strong-armed into it?

Articles Around the Web You May Enjoy:

Donation Requests at the Checkout Counter Annoy Me
Donate? Humbug! 8 Reasons Why My Favorite Charity is Me
Why You Should Donate More Money to Charity
One Casualty of the Recession: Charities
How to Donate Your Used Car
Make Your Charitable Contributions Before Year End

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren

I have two thoughts:

1. In the situation of the composter, I personally consider that a discounted item for the price of 1/2 off + $10. The city/company is disclosing who they’re donating a portion of the money to, and I am free to buy the item or not. It’s not different (for me) than a company offering a pink colored item at a discount and donating a portion of those proceeds to Susan G. Komen. I see your point about the additional fee, but to me I don’t believe it’s forced, per say, as long as it was disclosed before you got there.

2. When the windshield guy washes my windshield without asking, I don’t pay him. A service implies consent for said service. Without asking he’s touching my property without my permission. I probably would have given him a few bucks (or donated money to a shelter, or something) if he wouldn’t have, but the presumption in that kind of act is something I just don’t stand for.

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Amanda L Grossman

Hello Lauren!

Thank you very much for your thoughts. I always ask the homeless person to please not wash my windshield, and I give them a smile.

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Financial Samurai

It’s tough to figure out what exactly to donate too. Hopefully, with the Yakezie Scholarship, we will be donating money regularly to real people, who make an effort.

Best, Sam
Financial Samurai recently posted..The Minimalist Lifestyle Is Not For You

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Amanda L Grossman

Hello Sam!

For me, I figure out the causes I am interested in helping, and that is who I choose to donate to. The Yakezie scholarship is a great cause, and I would also love to donate towards scholarships for students traveling abroad, as I was the recipient of several of these and they literally changed my world!

Thanks for your comment.

Reply

Financial Samurai

I’m so proud of all the kids who took the effort to apply. Some really good essays so far (hope you’re voting), and some more excellent ones next week!

We’ll probably just go with highlighting the Top 10 and voting in the future. But maybe not, if we are able to run Member Articles AND Scholarship Essays concurrently throughout the month once we get to over 1,000/readers a day on Yakezie.com. I think we’re at around 600/day, so not too far away.

Regards,

Sam
Financial Samurai recently posted..Let’s Just Be Regular People

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retirebyforty

I wonder if “donate” instead of “purchase” make any difference in their accounting. The NGO must be able to do more with donation rather than selling those bins. Maybe they pay less tax with donation?
retirebyforty recently posted..Is 30 dollars worth dealing with Expense Report

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