Show me the money, and where it goes.

Christmas is coming, and even if you haven’t been paying attention, you should be aware of it by now through the sudden, massive increase in solicitations for charitable donations you’re receiving every day from every conceivable direction.

It happens every year, and it’s part of the festive season, no matter what your specific name for the Holiday Season might be, and it’s something we take for granted, accepting the need to reach out and help others who aren’t as privileged or prosperous as we are.

I’ve always done that.

You probably have, too.

It’s part and parcel of the way we were brought up—to have a conscience and a sense of responsibility for ourselves and for our duty to other less fortunate but no less deserving members of our society. And so each year we, as a family, decide how we can best allocate the resources available to us for charitable donations and endeavours. My wife and I each have our favourite charities and between us we manage to cover those we consider to be most important. Mine include the CNIB, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Cancer Foundation, among others, and my wife’s first choices cover the Heart and Stroke arena, Breast Cancer, the Hospital Foundation and the United Way, which she strongly believes in. We budget for our donations, and we have a small reserve for special instances of need that are unexpected or unanticipated.

But the flood of solicitations never abates, and some of the vehicles being used today to widen the wellspring of fundraising strike me, frankly, as verging on the cynical and abusive.

I first became aware of this four years ago, when on a visit to the mail kiosk.

There’s a garbage can there, and I noticed it was completely filled with white, boxed packages identical to one I had just collected from my own mailbox, and the ground around the can was littered with the overflow. Intrigued, I took my package home. The shipping box contained a beautifully made little note pad, with my name and address printed at the head of each page. It also held a decently made pen, several sheets of decorative, stick-on Christmas labels, several more sheets of personalized, adhesive return address stickers with my home address, and a beautifully written letter, on expensive paper, telling me why I should be duly grateful for the loving care and attention given to preparing this wonderfully thoughtful little gift, and should demonstrate my thanks by mailing a cheque to the enclosed address.

To say that gave me pause would be understating the situation by an order of magnitude.

I spent years in the advertising business at one stage of my life and I know how much it costs to prepare a package like that. Every element of that elaborate preparation has to be paid for, because no one can afford to provide all that time and labour voluntarily, to prepare such a huge, nation-wide campaign at no cost. From initial concept and original design, to step-by-step nurturing and creative development at every stage through intensive, minutely-detailed personalized production, packaging and eventual national distribution, each individual component of that perfectly packaged end product has to be paid for before anything else can happen.

That’s business.

And in my little postal kiosk, accommodating perhaps 120 to 150 households, dozens of those white boxes covered the ground where they had fallen when the garbage can overflowed.

It begged the question: who’s going to pay for all those discarded items? Which posed another question: if I were to send in a cheque now, how much of it would go to the charity? How much of it would go to paying for the wasteful campaign and the cumulative wages of all the people who worked to create such a huge fiasco? It left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

And now there’s another one out there: “Here, Mr. Whyte, we’re sending you a free nickel. Now you can choose to keep it and be a thieving cheapskate, or you can send us a cheque. Your choice.”

I’m not carping about the validity of the need for the funds raised here, but I have a very real concern about the tactics being used to raise many of those funds, either through the mail or over the phones. Too much of what I see and hear in these areas nowadays strikes me as being argumentative and sometimes even confrontational, and I believe there is something fundamentally immoral, or at the very least amoral, about soliciting charitable donations by inspiring feelings of guilt or discomfort in the people to whom you are addressing your concerns. Especially when you make me wonder just how much of your pay check my contribution to your cause might cover.