Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Making charitable gifts by phone...the down side

I don't really talk too much about my husband's profession mostly because this is my blog and I try to stick to my own business (mostly). But his profession has given me some useful insight, a tidbit of which I thought I'd share with you today. My husband is a charitable giving executive, or as I like to say, "a professional beggar." He works in Catholic health care right now, but has also worked in higher education. He is a trained panhandler (kidding, honey).

With all this talk about donating money to the people of Haiti, I thought I'd talk about an aspect of charitable giving you might not know much about. Actually I didn't know much about until recently and I'm only slightly more knowledgeable that the Average Joe, but I thought I'd share what I do know.

You have probably heard of "90999" the recently-publicized-but-not-so-new fundraising method that you can use to make a quick charitable gift -- to Haiti or HIV research or childhood hunger or whatever. Apparently 90999 has many flavors and the flavor of the day is Haiti. Now, I'm not going to tell you that it's a scam. It's not. But, it does have some drawbacks.

Highlighted in the Wall Street Journal today is the crux of the issue. In a nutshell: when you make a charitable gift through your phone (or any middle man) you are not only trusting that another entity will forward your entire gift, but you are delaying the gift. See, the phone company takes that pledge and holds it until you pay your bill. You haven't really given anything until you pay the phone company. That means your gift will make it to Haiti sometime in February or possible March, depending on how fast the phone company (or any middle man) moves.

Now, according to the WSJ article, some of the phone companies have been asked about this delay in forwarding funds and they have agreed to let some of the pledged dollars go to Haiti now, after all, sending water to Haiti in February will be way too late. But they aren't going to send all the money that has been pledged because they are essentially giving the American Red Cross, or whatever charitable group gets the money, a loan. They don't really have the money, yet.

You see, not everyone who pledged that money will pay their bill. They might have a tight month next month, or they might see or hear something between now and the time they write the check that causes them to change their mind about a gift. It happens, believe me.

And if the phone company has already sent the money to Haiti, then they are stuck with your unpaid pledge. You can see why they aren't going to send it all now.

So, while texting a gift is easy -- really even pulling a dollar out of your wallet takes more energy -- it's not the smartest gift. Take a few minutes, talk it over with your family and make a gift that you know will help promptly and directly. I said in my last post that I like the American Red Cross and why, but we limit most of our charitable gifts to Catholic organizations, so Catholic Relief Services is good, too.

Note: Making a gift by credit card is different than making a gift by phone bill. Just like when you buy a pair of shoes, the vendor gets their money immediately, as does the charitable organization, even if you don't pay your bill.


  1. This is good info that most people probably aren't aware of. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Thanks for explaining this. It does make sense.

  3. Thank you for explaining this, but ask your husband if it's true that credit companies are now charging a 3% processing fee for charitable donations made for relief. If that's true then nearly $20 has gone to banks of the donations we've made in the past 5 days. That is life or death for people in Haiti. On a more shallow level, that's 2 or more meals for my family of 6. I would like to know if this is true. If so, I'll find another way to give. It's too much!

    Thanks for educating us.

  4. I'm glad it helped you, Charlotte and Leila.

    My husband has not heard this, but he is not in emergency relief fundraising, so it could be true. Are you possibly confusing it with a credit card that donates 3% of your purchases to the charity of your choice?

  5. 1)There are always fees to be paid to the credit card company when you use a credit card vs. cash or check - this may be what your reader is referring to. The donation minus the 3% is better than no donation at all & it is convenient for the giver, which is why charities accept via credit card. But, if you are intent on avoiding that reduction in your actual donation write a check. If you are looking for ease, use online banking.

    2)I love our church. I didn't worry about giving to Haiti disaster relief because I knew our church would make a donation out of outreach & then would give us an opportunity at mass to give beyond that. Check with your church too to see if they are sending something or taking a collection.

    3)Catholic Relief Services is my favorite charity for these types of things because while I've never worked in the trenches, I've known people who have. They speak highly of CRS getting the resources to people who need it vs. spending it elsewhere. One of my friends became Catholic AFTER what she saw in these countries. Not because of the CRS per say, but it spoke volumes for the Church overall. The Red Cross is my next favorite for donations.


I appreciate your comments -- sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself!