Student of the Year

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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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