I’m ashamed of my irritated exclamation when I first noticed Salvation Army bell-ringers this year: “Really? It’s not even Thanksgiving!”
It was a few weeks ago. I was shopping for groceries and other items, which involved visiting three stores. There was a bell-ringer when I entered the first store as well as a children’s fundraiser. At the checkout, I was asked if I wanted to donate $1 to a charity. To exit the store, I passed a different bell-ringer and the kids selling popcorn.
My next two stops each had bell-ringers, and one had the charity-ask at the checkout. The other had a group bagging items for customers in exchange for donations. Irritation melted into frustration. (One sounded like a made-up scam akin to the “Seinfeld” Human Fund.)
By the time I completed my errands, I had avoided eye contact with six adults and four children, paid to have my items bagged and dropped donations in five red buckets. (If the Salvation Army someday starts its season on Labor Day, I’ll cringe and keep donating.)
My general ire over all the “asks” made me feel like a monster. To be constantly hit up for a few bucks here and $5 more there is as overwhelming as it is ubiquitous: at work, church, school, shopping or home over dinner. Add that when I give, I sometimes worry it’s not enough. When I don’t give, I feel ashamed I can’t afford to give to everything. If I’m not hard enough on myself, there’s usually someone who will remind me I could do, give and be more.
I want to explain myself, but I don’t. I don’t say my giving is, for the most part, planned. When I wave off those adorable children shilling candy, cookies and popcorn in front of department stores, I don’t say I feel obligated to buy from the equally adorable kids within my circle who are raising funds for equally important things.
I believe others also feel annoyed when bombarded with requests for microdonations. However, I didn’t want to write this column. To do so is to admit I’m not always as generous as I want to believe. In writing this, I’m telling you something I don’t want anyone to know. (For Pete’s sake, don’t tell my mother.)
Plus, I know some fundraisers see me coming from a mile away; if they can get me to make eye contact, they believe they have me. They know I know they’re not asking much of me. They know I’ll do the math in my head: “Is it easier/cheaper/faster to say I already gave or just give them what they’re asking for?”
They’re correct in their perception; I hate to say “no.” I want to help and be perceived as helpful. But sometimes I must decline. It’s OK for me to do so, even if I’m not always OK with it.