On This Giving Tuesday, Be Generous, But Cautious

Watch out for charities.

It’s Giving Tuesday, when your social media acquaintances and different charities put on a full-court-press effort to get you to open your heart – and wallet – to their needs.

And you absolutely should, philanthropic giving and volunteership have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life thus far, especially when my efforts and resources are going behind causes I personally care about. I have health issues that I care deeply about – developmental disabilities, cleft lips and palates (common facial deformities), several cancers (pancreatic, lung, breast and blood/lymph) – as well as other interests like the humane treatment of animals, environmental stewardship, anti-poverty and anti-hunger campaigns – that drive me to give a little every year, even in years where I have not otherwise kept my financial picture in the black ink.

Not All Charities Are Created Equal

But I wanted to sound a warning to all of you on this Giving Tuesday – just because a charity purports to be a good actor and committed to a cause you care about, doesn’t’ mean that your money will actually go to that cause. Many charities have huge amounts of overhead and pay their executives exorbitant sums of money.

For example, cancer-related foundations like the Childhood Leukemia Foundation do not send the majority of their revenues to the families of children with leukemia, nor do they spend their proceeds on leukemia research – instead, 70 to 80 percent of their revenues go to “outside fundraisers.” The United Breast Cancer Foundation raised more than $11.6 million in donations between 2006 and 2016, but gave less than $800,000 to those suffering from breast cancer.

There are myriad examples of poorly-run, bad-behaving charities representing every philanthropic pursuit. There are several resources around the web listing good versus bad charitable organizations. Since I do not trust much of the content that comes up on my Google search for bad charities, I’ll refer readers to Consumer Reports’ list, which is at least somewhat credible.

But that’s just part of my warning.

Even Good Charities Do Bad Things

A few years ago, we lost my grandfather after a long battle with dementia. He was wealthy – much of his wealth came from the entrepreneurship and investing prowess of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as his wife’s modestly wealthy family – but my Pop, an only child, ended up inheriting all of that money, and he was a conscientious saver and investor.

He was also a very generous man, particularly motivated by animal welfare and anti-poverty causes. We know that he gave diligently every year because we had the evidence in numerous letters of thanks, tchotchkes and other communications from his charities of choice.

As he advanced in age, many of these charities took note of both his generosity and his declining mental status. Calls for donations became more frequent, and the asks became larger.

Pop was writing huge checks to these charities up until the time when we realized that he was no longer thriving in an independent setting and needed a caretaker – he eventually moved in with my parents, but not before he was taken for a very large amount of money from organizations he loved and trusted.

Keep in mind that, for the most part, these were not the poorly behaving charities like the ones discussed above, but very old and well-respected organizations that were taking advantage of the kindness of an old man.

Now, I know that Pop was happy to sign the checks and give the money at the time he was doing so, but he would have balked at the amount and the frequency of his giving if he had all of his marbles in place.

So on this Giving Tuesday I encourage you to exercise your generosity to the fullest extent possible – but keep in mind that even the best non-profit organizations with the best of intentions may have a few bad apples working for them, and that they are not at all required to have the best interest of their givers in mind when they solicit donations.

Also, keep an eye on your loved ones as they age. Charities are one of many types of financial organizations that might seek to exploit a decline in mental status among elderly patrons or clients.


  1. You're absolutely right that not all charities are created equal, and it is unfortunate when you see even some quality charities due things like what happened to your grandfather.

    We were able to support a few organizations this year on Giving Tuesday in addition to those that we do our best to support throughout the year, whether that be financially or by volunteering. Thanks for the reminders!


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