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Hello, I’m that guy from Marketing selling Girl Scout cookies for his daughter. Except I don’t really have any Thin Mints and it’s actually my son’s charity I’m pushing. I know, I know. You gave at the office. Wait. This IS the office. But I understand — you’ve been giving and giving and giving — at the front door, at the supermarket, at the traffic light when the firemen pass their hats, at the request of 25 different emails a year from various other worthy charities. And they are ALL worthy. Well, maybe not that suspicious one sending kids to the circus on behalf of who knows who. But there are so many charities and fundraising pages on social media and the average person can only be SO charitable.

Yep, I fully understand. Because my family has been active volunteers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for the past five years, we have landed on the calling and mailing lists of just about every charity known to man. Every fall, we walk on behalf of LLS at Philadelphia’s Light The Night walk. And I know many others who do the same for Breast Cancer, Alzheimer’s, American Heart Association, ALS, and a long list of other great causes. There are so many great causes that the United Way was devised years ago as a way for corporate America to attempt to spread the wealth of charitable giving around.

Add in all the youth sports and club activities our children are involved in, the school extracurricular activities whose district budgets have been slashed, and our weekly giving at the churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions we belong to. Political and social causes. The arts non-profits. No wonder everyone feels fundraising fatigue.

If you are a retailer, you are consistently tapped to support charities, especially from the local community as a way of giving back. If you are a corporation, you are expected to pony up big sponsorship dollars for the privilege of having your name attached to a charity or event. Between the folks in the Accounting and Investment departments, somebody looked at the outgo of funds to non-profits a long time ago and put some automatic fiscal brakes in place. As a result, there are now a great many walls that fundraisers must climb over — from policy statements, to unreturned voice mails, to tightly guarded lists of “approved” charities/donations worked out the prior fiscal year. Charitable askers are often met with a never-ending series of dead ends.

So, with so many causes and much fewer dollars available, how does one choose which charities to fund and how to politely say no to all the others. It always comes down to a personal connection. In my case, my son is a childhood leukemia survivor. He is now a healthy high schooler, many years beyond what the medical profession considers “completely cured.” His gift of daily health after a scary start to his first birthday and three-and-one-half years of treatment is why he and my family have decided to give back. That, and because LLS spends its fundraised monies so wisely, on research leading to innovative treatments like this one. Plus LLS research has resulted in the development of 19 drugs that are now used to treat cancers other than blood cancers, including pancreatic cancer.

As one of 10 students competing for LLS “Student of the Year” honors in the Eastern PA Chapter, my son has had the experience of “doing the ask” in a tough environment for charitable giving. Yet he has learned that when asked, friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and even businesses of all sizes still respond in humbling ways. Nearly one hundred individual and generous gifts have come in thus far, with many more turning out to support a fundraising night at a local restaurant.

So, the next time you are approached by a non-profit about making a donation, ask yourself if you have a personal connection that makes a gift more meaningful for you and for the charity. And remind yourself that even a small gift makes a huge difference when compared with no gift at all.

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Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

My youngest son Peter had a sad coming of age moment this week. He had bought a second hermit crab as a companion to one he had gotten down the shore last summer. Crab number two died within days of being put in his new surroundings. Then, a week later, Peter’s first crab died, too. He was brave about it until bedtime, the hour he usually came downstairs to put fresh food and water in the cage. That’s when it hit home for him that this small living creature that he had cared for so lovingly and diligently for over the course of an entire year was gone.
That anniversary hit home for me, too, and I have been dwelling on it ever since. Peter is going to be twelve this fall, but a month shy of his first birthday, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood leukemia. The news was devastating to us. We thought we were about to lose a son after nurturing him for a year. It was a lightning bolt out of the blue. It was a diagnosis that radically changed our lives for the next three-and-a-half years of treatment, and ever since in terms of how we view the everyday and the serious.
Despite Peter’s current loss of a hermit crab, you know that our story had a happy ending. Eternal gratitude over defeating an illness as devastating as leukemia prompted my family last year to get involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s primary fundraising vehicle, the Light The Night walks. This year, I have had the honor of working with LTN’s chief volunteer team, every member of which has been touched in some way by leukemia or lymphoma. Some of these brave folks are currently battling a blood cancer themselves.

Light The Night Walk

Light The Night Walk

The Philadelphia walk last October was amazing to behold. Rain was expected, which everyone prepared for. What wasn’t factored in was a monsoon-like deluge that the skies unleashed about a half-mile into the course walk. Just about the time, my family and I were ready to throw in the towel (because we hadn’t brought a towel along and the umbrellas were now officially useless), we looked around and saw walk participants in wheelchairs, some being pushed by family members, some soldiering on themselves in motorized units, and we realized that this was a group that never gives in.

Light The Night kickoff at the Phillies

Light The Night kickoff at the Phillies

This week that same group met under brighter skies at Citizens Bank Park because the Phillies were helping the Eastern PA Chapter of LLS kick off the 2010 walks in grand style. Nearly one thousand walkers were on hand to hear inspirational pep talks, fundraising tips, and encouragement. I saw a number of kids, cueball bald from chemo, and a few in wheelchairs, and it took me right back to Peter’s tough times at CHOP. Childhood cancer isn’t fair, doesn’t discriminate, but it can and must be beaten.

Light The Night at the Phillies

The crowds turned out for the Light The Night kickoff at the Phillies

Add to this group the many adults of all ages who are battling leukemia and lymphoma and you could not find a worthier cause than the Light The Night walks. I just learned that a good friend’s wife and his son-in-law are both battling stubborn and tricky lymphoma diagnoses. Several weeks ago at a family reunion, my cousin’s wife shared details of their son’s tough but successful regimen to beat his blood cancer during his early twenties.

Light The Night volunteers and Phils phans

Light The Night volunteers and Phils phans

I encourage anyone who reads this post to get involved in some way. To form your own team or to become a corporate sponsor, please visit the Eastern PA Chapter of LLS’s website for more information. If you prefer to make an online contribution, you can do so via the LLS site or my family’s fundraising page. No matter what loss you or a friend or neighbor or loved one are suffering or have suffered at the hands of leukemia or lymphoma, you will gain tremendously by being involved in this incredibly worthwhile cause. Let’s make all blood cancers a thing of the past.

Light The Night Phillies Kickoff photography courtesy of Peter Van Beever

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