Jackie Clark from The Aunties has one Christmas wish: before you give to charity, do your research.
We are coming up to the time of year when people get into the spirit of giving. Although your heart might be in the right place, when you donate to your favourite charities this Christmas season, try not to make the same mistakes I see being made by well-meaning donors year after year.
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To put it bluntly: people tend to donate what they want to donate, and not necessarily what the charities need. Before you donate, ask yourself the question: are you doing it on your terms, or the charity's terms?
The key to giving is to ensure you aren't making more work for the organisation. Christmas time is when these places are at their absolute busiest trying to support people through the toughest period of the year. People who are already struggling are completely out on the ropes at Christmas there's no accommodation available and there are expectations around Christmas presents and meals. You need to work to resource the charity with exactly what they need, so they can best resource their clients.
Take the Christmas gift drive as a good example. I get so many kind people contacting me to ask about giving Christmas presents, but for every new email we get from someone saying they have a pile of toys, there needs to be someone at our end to collect them. When we can't resource that pick-up, I have to tell them to drop them at the City Mission. That's a worthy option too, but proves that they hadn't actually asked what our specific needs were before they took action.
Then there are lots of very generous people who wrap their presents. Again, a fantastic thought, except for the fact that the paper either rips in transit or when being handled, so we have to rewrap them, making even more work for us. The other problem we often face with gifts is when people contact us four days before Christmas to say 'I've got these Christmas presents for you, come and collect them'. If you had asked us, you'd know that most organisations have their Christmas parties well in advance of Christmas.
Food is another area where it's best to ask first before donating. When I work to stock the cupboards in women's refuges, for example, we don't need any tinned tomatoes. This is because when women first arrive in a refuge, they can be completely shell-shocked after fleeing their home, often with their children in tow. These women need comfort food and quick, easy meals they aren't interested in cooking a meal from scratch. After years of working in this area, I know that if this is not what the women want, then that's not what I'm giving them.
The other fact is that every organisation resourcing people in the community needs money. It's really important for people to realise you're much more effective to a charity if you actually donate money, because then they can resource the people they're working with. If you want to know where that money goes, do a bit of leg work. Every charity has to have their accounts somewhere, you might just have to so some research to find them. The organisations can't do all the work for you they are busy doing the mahi and working in the community.
Basically, what I want is for people to be more mindful. Consider what your expectations are, your understanding of being a donor and the concept of giving. Don't focus on yourself and what a good person you are, focus on the why. Why am I giving? What are your motivations and expectations? Are you making things easier or harder for the charity? I encounter a lot of people who wouldn't say boo to a goose for most of the year, but then Christmas rolls around and they all show up. I have to ask: where have you been?
Most people donate during this time of year for a pat on the back, which I completely understand as well. It's a nice feeling, but I want people to be more thoughtful. The reality is that right now in New Zealand there are a lot of people struggling. If you want to give those people effective support this Christmas, you've got to make your donation count. Otherwise, who are you doing it for? Just reach out and ask what people need the most. It's so simple. Ask what people need, and they will tell you.
As told to Alex Casey