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Greene: Caveat Donor

(Host)  This holiday season, commentator Stephanie Greene, a writer who lives on the family farm in Windham County, finds herself trying to navigate a welter of causes clamoring for donations.

(Greene) When I was in high school, an urban legend passed through our ranks about an ad, placed in a major magazine, which read, Feed the Corpulent Children of Grosse Pointe Michigan. There was an address where one could send donations. It was said that the scoundrels behind the ad had cleaned up because open-hearted donors hadn't bothered to look up 'Corpulent', and didn't know that at the time, Grosse Pointe was the richest community in the nation. Because there was no deception involved, no law had been broken, and the gleeful crooks supposedly made off with their loot. English teachers used this tale to bring home the critical importance of a good vocabulary, or failing that, a good dictionary and the occasional willingness to consult it.

Of course we are more sophisticated now. But the entreaties are, if anything, more strident on the Internet. Everything is an emergency. Chip in! Get their backs! we're exhorted - with only vague references to what the money is actually for.

During the recent campaign, Igot on too many lists. So lately, I've been unsubscribing. I get fewer emails and feel less important, but I'm not out of the woods yet. During a recent trip to New York, I was approached by an earnest young man with a clipboard who urged me not only to join his environmental group, but to donate monthly. He was not about to be bought off with a couple bucks' donation, either. I told him it was my strict rule to never get married on the first date. As he laughed, I made my getaway. Later I wondered how many long-term, dedicated supporters he'd get by this method. For to make a real difference, says Kathy LeMay, a philanthropist based in Northampton, who's raised over a hundred milliondollars, you need to commit for the long haul.

Then I recalled that when our sons were small, they each got to choose a cause to donate to. They researched, came up with a charity, and contributed money, which we matched. They also wrote letters explaining why the cause was important to them.

Our younger son, at age 8, was crazy about anything military, and chose a group aiding homeless veterans. In his letter he wrote that they had once been eight years old too, and that he was grateful for their service. He got a beautiful letter back.

It was an inspiring and empowering experience; and it was a lot of fun. The kids learned they could make a difference in the world and enjoyed honing their vision of what they wanted to accomplish.

So, we learned to start with what we loved, to research and evaluate missions and their effectiveness, and to hang in there.

The reward of putting your money where your heart is - well, that's priceless.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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