“A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.” – Ralph Nader

AIDS RideI’ve sponsored several friends over the years to pedal in the AIDS Ride or walk for Breast Cancer. A few more than once. They’ve all been gracious in the way they have asked for sponsorship and then thankful upon receiving my donation. I’ve always been happy to give and I’ve typically never been asked more than once a year.

When I was reading the Do The Right Thing column in Money magazine, Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz offered their view about a friend asking repeatedly if you’ll sponsor them in their charity walk, ride or run.

Here’s the question from one of their readers: “When I told my new neighbor I was participating in a triathlon to raise money for a charity, he volunteered to send in a check for $50. I was very appreciative at the time. But since then, he’s asked me to support him in three different runs for worthy causes. I’ve said yes each time, but this is starting to get expensive. At what point can I say no, and what should I tell him?”

Their answer: “Here’s what you do: The next time your neighbor asks you for money, tell him that you wish him well, but unfortunately you can’t help out this time. And keep telling him that until he gives up.”

Then they go on to suggest that as a general rule we shouldn’t be soliciting others for donations. Bottom line: don’t ask!

But that seems a bit harsh… doesn’t it? Or not? I’ve worked remotely from home for almost ten years, but when I did work in an office, I remember the constant stream of requests from co-workers and their children. Girl Scout cookies, gift wrap, you name it. People were always peddling something for a cause.

Fleming and Schwarz continue with their advice, “Americans are by and large an unusually charitable people. But most of us prefer to devote the lion’s share of our charitable giving budget to the causes that matter to us, not the ones that interest our neighbors. So when you ask someone to support you in an event like the triathlon or to buy a box of candy to help fund your child’s class trip, you’re asking them to put their friendship with you ahead of their own favorite charities. That’s asking for a substantial favor – a favor that shouldn’t be sought lightly or, as your neighbor has, repeatedly.”

In this week’s What Would You Do post, we pose a few questions: Is the request to buy a box of candy for five bucks different than the $200 wanted for the AIDS Ride? And if you don’t want to give, then how do you say no? Do you feel comfortable asking family members but not friends or co-workers? Or is the entire concept of “sponsorship” just plain weird and this type of charitable giving needs a remodel? And what about those repeat offenders… I’m mean really, how many times is that lesbian going to run a marathon? And if more than once or twice, shouldn’t she pony up the few grand that’s required to participate. After all, it’s her cause and she’s the one running.

As usual, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.