I’m not especially religious, but I believe in the freedom to pursue one’s beliefs as long as they don’t harm or invade someone else’s religious practices.
Having said that, I still wish we had a law prohibiting the use of Jesus Christ’s birthday as a tool for fundraising. I’m not talking about the custom of gift giving and the holiday specials that the stores run. I’m thinking of the multi-appeals that flood our mailboxes, computers and telephone lines in the final weeks of each year.
Let’s begin with the self-address labels that inundate us. Do these medical, veterans, police, refugee, food bank and musical organizations really believe that we’ll actually use those labels during the course of the coming year? Haven’t these groups heard the big news: people seldom write personal letters anymore! Instead, we have email, the telephone, the internet, Facebook and a dozen other means of communicating with our fellow humans. But each year the deluge of return-address labels begins again.
Then there’s the radio and TV outlets that each year use the celebration of the birth of Christ to bombard listeners and viewers with messages such as: “Please, please, please! Send us all the money you can, and do it right now! You are the primary source of our survival. Let us describe the 23 separate ways you can make your contribution. First, there’s cold cash. Then, your credit card. Next, promise to send us $19 a month for the next 18 years. And if you give us $1,000 or more immediately, we’ll send you our recordings of “Dolly Parton Sings Puccini’s Best Loved Arias.”
And so forth. I’m exaggerating, but not much. Last night while giving my kitchen its weekly cleanup I tuned in to a local music station. As the clock neared midnight, two staffers competed to see who could render the heart-tuggiest version of “Only eight minutes remain for you to take advantage of Mrs. Big Bucks’ generous promise to quintuple whatever donation you make!”
I have always assumed that fundraising outfits come forward at Christmas because of the theory that people feel more generous at that time. This may be true. But it’s also true that millions of Americans approach the edge of bankruptcy as they pay for the Christmas gifts they’re buying. Couldn’t economists and other financial experts determine what are the actual points when most, or many, of us feel secure enough to support one or more worthy causes? Example: the period when the U.S. Treasury sends refunds to persons who have overpaid?
To get back to the largely useless return-address labels: What other low-cost gifts could fundraisers insert in their request envelopes? My paramour, Carolina Moon, suggests a skinny, 10-page scratch pad, easily inserted in a purse or shirt pocket. My own preference: a card listing the main principles of stoicism. It’s a useful philosophy, not a religion, so there’s no conflict with Christianity or other belief systems.
Right about here I must apologize to professional fundraisers for lofting what may sound like criticism of how they work. They pursue a demanding and (in most cases) honorable line of work. I just wish they would come up with some new ideas.
Such as guaranteeing that a percentage of all contributions would go to:
• Children too poor to afford ice cream. Two percent to go into a permanent ice cream fund — is that asking a lot?
• Or a cold-weather fund. It would benefit any family unable to pay for decent heating when winter comes. When is the last time you’ve been hit with that sort of appeal? Maybe I’m wrong. Feel free to let me know.