As we get closer to the holiday season, you will probably start to hear about various ways you can show generosity. There’s the famous shoebox drive, Salvation Army, and other organizations such as St. Jude who collect funds and gifts around the holidays.
While I love the opportunities to give (We are currently running a Toys for Texas campaign!), if I am being honest I am a “cynical giver”. I am cautious when people ask for donations or when missionaries ask for sponsorship.
Although many of these organizations listed earlier (such as St. Jude) have gone through proper measures to hold themselves accountable, you have probably heard of various charity scams that exist as well. Unfortunately I have had my share of running into some of these scam artists.
Just to name a few…
I once gave money to a guy who told me he was hungry and begged me for money. I had no money for food for myself that day and gave him what I had. I found out later that he had a car and a home much nicer than mine.
A woman tried to convince me that she was homeless and needed me to drive her to a hotel and pay for her stay. When I was approached by a friend who didn’t think it was a safe idea, the woman caught on and went to target someone else. I later discovered the address she was trying to get me to drive to was an airport… not a hotel. And the “hotel manager” she had put me on the phone with earlier was most likely a pimp.
Countless “missionaries” that I have known who cheat on their taxes, lie on official documents (not for safety reasons), use their children to manipulate and lie to churches for money, write “prayer letters” that are deceitful, and have little to no accountability for what they actually do.
If you don’t want to give a dollar to anyone ever again after reading that, I totally understand.
I have also met the man in Baltimore who approached Seth and I for any food we may have had. It wasn’t a safe place so we weren’t carrying any cash on us. The only thing we had was our takeout boxes from dinner. I’ll never forget when he took our boxes. He ran (He was probably embarrassed) and immediately started eating on the side of the road.
We have met the family who was in a car accident. The wife on life support, the baby in the NICU due to a premature c-section, and a worried father looking for anyone or anyway to help his family. I saw the baby with my own eyes and prayed over the woman fighting for her life in the ICU.
I have met the missionaries who invite the widowed and orphaned into their home without a single ounce of judgement, who give to the homeless what little they themselves have, and speak up for the oppressed and the forgotten. They are the selfless messengers of God who will love their communities at any cost.
So how do you tell the difference?
In today’s thinks I want to go over a few tips that may help you this holiday season to give cheerfully and avoid getting scammed.
Be prepared to give if you know you will be in an area that you may be approached for money or food. While it may not be safe to carry cash, having a ziplock bag of snacks and hygiene times could really help someone out.
Wait, I thought this was about avoiding scams… not giving free hand outs?
You’re right. And here’s what I’ve found that generally happens. Those that are truly hungry will gladly take your gift, those that are not in need will most likely reject it.
Offer to Fix the Problem
I once had a man call me a “B***” because I offered to call a tow truck and buy him gas (for free) for his car that had “broken down” in the parking lot instead of giving him cash. If you’re wondering if he was ok after, his car seemed to be running just fine when I left.
If someone approaches you for help, make sure you are in a well populated area. Ask what they need. Ask why they need what they need and offer to fulfill the need for them.
If they are asking for food, offer to buy them lunch.
If they are asking for a place to stay (asses the situation), call your local shelter for guidance.
Do this from a heart of wanting to fulfill a true need. It may be a simple sandwich you share from a grocery store, but it could mean a lot to someone. If someone continues to harass you for cash after you have offered to help them, chances are they are not really needing what they’ve asked you for.
It is not uncommon that I get approached by a stranger on Facebook for charity donations. It could be for an orphanage or a medical need. While there are plenty of legitimate small non-profit groups (Keep doing what you’re doing guys! You’re amazing!). There are also scam artists who beg for money from the comfort of their living room. These fake charity organizations have no desire to help those in need, and end up holding the donations for themselves.
So how do you tell the difference?
Any charity that is doing legitimate work will and should have an accountability system. This may include photos of someone receiving your gift, an active followup on the actions that are being taken, or a website that is used to actively connect with its donors. While this may sound strict, it’s also 2017. As long as someone has access to internet, this should not be an excuse. The website does not have to be elaborate either. I personally know of legitimate non-profit organizations that use Facebook as their business page or send personal emails to keep their sponsor up to date.
You should also be able to ask your charity questions about the donated money. If there is any form of hesitation from the other party to answer your questions, I would proceed with caution.
It’s sad that this last point needs to be mentioned. However it is not uncommon to hear of “missionaries” who are either not abiding by their laws (without persecution) to avoid paying their dues or not doing any of the work that has been promised to their sponsors. Truthfully, I have become very cynical when it comes to sponsoring missionaries because of the deceit that I have seen throughout the years.
While I understand that the “English teaching method” has been used in numerous countries as a tool to share the gospel, I have also seen the exact opposite. These scam artists will use an “English outreach” while “sharing the gospel” and photos are taken to show the “growth” in the mission field. I have also seen “missionaries” who will use the English Bible as a text book and tell their sponsoring churches that they are presenting the “gospel” or holding a “Bible study”. The locals may not understand a word that is being said, however, well meaning sponsors are completely deceived into believing actual work is being done.
As someone who has been working to pay my own bills for the last 10 years, it is absolutely mind blowing to me that there is no accountability system for “missionaries” like this. Although they may be attached to a “sending church” or “mission board”, there seems to be a general lack of management. Any charitable/mission work should require a check balance or regular meetings with their missionaries/staff.
So how do you avoid sponsoring fake “missionaries”?
Thankfully I currently attend a church who has been a prime example of what an accountable staff/mission team should look like.
The missionaries that are sent from our church have regular meetings with the mission’s directory. Goals, finances, and work is discussed. These meetings are held by Skype or phone. The missionaries are expected to give timely updates on the work that is being done overseas. And as finance reports are held in the business world, so are they with the missions teams. Everyone is held accountable for the money and gifts that are given by sponsors.
I hope today’s thinks has served as a help to you when it comes to charitable giving. While there are many scams out there, there are those who are truly in need. I hope this post was able to help you discern which ones are which.