Charity is a good thing. Always was, probably always will be — desire to help those in need, spurred by either moral motivation (need to do something good), hope of reciprocation (someone will help me, if I ever need help) or just plain frugality (will deduct it from my taxes). But it seems to me that charity as whole in the US is more of an industry now.
Yes, you can still give to a small local company to support a good cause. But whatever you do, remain anonymous. No matter how charity workers plead you, do not give them your name and/or address. Even if they say it’s to send you a “thank you” note (they have already thanked you when you gave them the money, right?). Because as soon as they get a whiff of information, the industry instincts kick in.
A small monetary donation automatically puts you on a “sucker that can give money” list, and you will start get regular mailings from them from that point and out to infinity. Every couple months there will be a letter with some hart-wrenching story meant to spur you for additional donation. You’ll get invitations to charity events (pay the entrance fee, donate), notifications on how tough life is for that charity (and it can be made better with your money), notes asking if you’ve forgot to send your donation (we’re sure you want to give us money, so do it already) etc etc. Some extra nasty cases result in that “suckers with money” list being sold to other charity companies, so you start getting even more mail asking for money.
So, whatever you do, keep it anonymous. You’ll feel good about donating anyways, and you will feel even better afterwards, knowing that you are in control of your impulse donations, and that you’re not an entry in enormous database, sold and resold for a chance to make a buck off of your good intentions. Some recommend adding a note that asks not to sell/rent/give address and other information to anyone, but I find that way less effective than just not giving an address in a first place.
Another proof that charity is an industry — countless “stickers” that supposed to push you towards sending a donation (they do work, by the way, as producing a single page of stickers costs pennies, and people feel guilty and send back a $5 or so, thus getting on the list), and cold calls. Every time when one of those “firemen’s heart-broken widows and orphans” association calls you, you have to remember that it may not be a widow at all that called you, but a company that takes 80% of your donated money to itself and giving remainder to the actual charity.
And marketing departments love shroud of charity too. Yes, any money sent to cancer research helps. But have you ever thought about the math behind sending yogurt lids to manufacturer so they’d “donate a penny for each lead”? How many lids did you mail? A hundred? No? Then perhaps mailing a dollar to cancer research foundation would be better. Same amount of time, same postage, but whole dollar, instead of 15 cents (or more, if you eat yogurt by a case). Minus your name on manufacturer’s list.
So, do give money to a good cause. But make it a bit personal. And avoid the publicity.