What goes into your gift?In the spirit of generosity and goodwill, many of us are also looking for ways to give back to our communities. There are many worthy causes and organizations out there. How do we choose? As someone who worked in nonprofits for many years, I can tell you not all nonprofits are the same. Take your time, make some phone calls, and ask some questions.
By: Tammy Francois, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
With the gift giving holidays just a week away, most of us are busy trying to find or make thoughtful tokens to bestow upon those we love. We give a lot of handmade gifts at our house. I am an expert at overestimating my creative skills, and it can get a little hairy.
One September, I decided to take a class to learn to knit sweaters. (How hard could that be?) I figured I could make one for each of the SIX people in my family...by Christmas.
Another year, I ordered an unfinished wooden chess board and pieces. I painstakingly sanded, painted, and varnished each night for weeks and finally finished the set at 4 o’clock on Christmas morning. I think that's the year I decided to cancel my subscription to Martha Stewart Living!
In spite of the debacles, I still make many of the gifts I give. I like thinking about each recipient as I’m making a gift just for him or her. It's like a cozy, leisurely visit. I like the quiet hours at my sewing machine or with my yarn and knitting needles. I like the way it slows the frantic pace of life.
For me, making gifts is also a political decision. The more I learn about how much garment workers are paid overseas, the less inclined I am to support retailers who exploit them.
And the more I learn about how most mining companies extract precious metals from the ground, the less I want to buy items like jewelry and electronics. According to the Pew Environmental Group, hard rock mining such as gold, platinum, copper, silver, and nickel mining has contaminated 40 percent of watersheds in the western US. It’s a dirty business. If you want to know more go to www.nodirtygold.org.
It saddens me to think that we are considering a proposal to allow copper and nickel mining in beautiful northern Minnesota. The argument in favor, of course, is that the mine will bring badly needed jobs to our region. I understand how attractive that is. I am still unemployed after two and a half years, and my husband just recently got a job after three years unemployment. He currently makes just over one-third of his previous wage.
Yet, one look at the devastation caused by this kind of mining operation, and it’s clear that the losses far outweigh the gains for people and the environment.
In the spirit of generosity and goodwill, many of us are also looking for ways to give back to our communities. There are many worthy causes and organizations out there. How do we choose? As someone who worked in nonprofits for many years, I can tell you not all nonprofits are the same. Take your time, make some phone calls, and ask some questions.
Nonprofits should be paying their employees a living wage, and there should not be an enormous disparity between the wages of directors and staff. Where does their money come from and how is it spent? What percentage of the budget is spent on direct services to clients? They should be able to tell you.
If possible, volunteer at these organizations. You can learn a lot that way. Don’t just take the word of someone who has a vested interest in your donation. Make sure that your core beliefs are upheld by the organization. For example, do you support diversity and equality? Do they?
Do you want to donate to an organization that helps kids? How do they screen and supervise staff and volunteers who work with kids?
Your questions and involvement help ensure that service to the community is performed with integrity. Organizations worthy of your support should welcome your inquiry.
Perhaps this sounds like I am adding one more thing to your to-do list. I guess I am, but money talks. We all have a stake in making the world a better place. If we take just a little more time to make sure our hard earned money is supporting a more equitable, clean, and safe community, we will give a gift that truly contributes to peace on earth.