Maybe charity shouldn’t begin at home

by Honolulu Mother

I was interested to see the four charities listed in this article as the places able to do the most good with new donations this year: “These are the charities where your money will do the most good”. They’re addressing problems that wouldn’t have automatically occurred to me, and one of them involves just giving money directly to individual recipients. I’ve done microlending before, but perhaps just giving money is a better approach. The article also suggests focusing on giving abroad due to the much greater need, which is probably true, but I’m not about to stop grabbing those “$X can feed Y people lunch for a week!” coupons that are available to add to your purchase at the grocery checkout this time of year.

My wealthy alma mater is probably the least morally justifiable of my donations.

Do you step up your charitable giving during the holidays? What are some of your favorite charities?

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107 thoughts on “Maybe charity shouldn’t begin at home

  1. We started to donate to some of our charities on Giving Tuesday. We were just discussing the remaining dollars last night. DH had a really bad year at work. His firm had a lot of bad investments in energy, Ukraine etc etc.
    Our overall income is much lower this year plus we had big expenses from reno. We’re going to cut back our donations to universities and colleges that probably don’t need as much. We want to keep giving to our local food bank, local schools, and a bunch of health related stuff that is impt to us such as a research fund at MSK.

  2. I actually dial it back at the end of the year, when I’m reviewing the finances. I was giving quite a bit to my church, but I decided they’re not going to get one red cent til they get rid of that pastor. Other than that I like the local animal shelter, Aurora Warms the Night, and Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee.

  3. We give through church based organizations. These have local food pantries and opportunties to volunteer locally, in addition to serving worldwide. We started volunteering at the church run local food bank, so we can see the direct need in our own community. A charity I’ve contributed to for a long time is Children International. It is one of the “sponsor a child” charities. I did not choose to write letters or visit my sponsored child but was very proud when “my child” reached eighteen, started training to be a teachher and graduated the program.

  4. This is a spending category I haven’t touched in our budget. It’s not that I don’t want to give, it’s just that, well, I haven’t given it the time.

    When I do donate, it’s the small donations throughout the year – money to my nieces/nephews for school fundraisers, scouts, filling the boots of our emergency services, etc. I never really keep track of it. I do give an orange or bottle of water to the homeless people who panhandle on my commute.

    My grad school gets a donation (not much) because those dollars go directly to the Alumni Fund which gives grants to students for research and travel. I received a grant through that fund, so I like paying it forward.

    I think I’ll start really looking at this category in the New Year.

  5. We give our larger donations to our college and DH’s law school in January (for a less altruistic reason – we have to get to $6500 in spending on our Amex to start earning more cash back). I give to the Atlanta Food Bank between Thanksgiving and Christmas and give via payroll deduction to the university I work for. Other than that it’s smaller stuff throughout the year like the mandatory United Way and Legal Aid stuff that DH’s office does.

    I rarely give beyond the U.S. unless there is some natural disaster and I donate to the Red Cross. I do like the idea of giving to my own community even if the dollars would “do more good elsewhere” according to someone else.

  6. We give very very little – smallish amounts to both our alma maters (DH only if he remembers, which is probably $50 every other year) and then I give a bigger gift to my choir. I direct my alma mater gifts to my choir there or to my a cappella group.

    DH is very libertarian/stingy in this regard – he doesn’t think churches and universities should have tax exemptions at all, for example. He does see our own timberland as helping conservation efforts, so there’s that.

  7. I can’t put my finger on why exactly but the tone of that article and other articles that try to tell you the “right” way to give bother me. If people are giving their money to causes they care about, I don’t think we need to criticize whether they are giving their money in the “best” way possible.

    We have charity included in our budget, so we don’t typically increase our giving in December. This year though we are increasing our giving due to a few commitments that we were behind on and a new organization that we want to support. We give primarily to church and then to several other miscellaneous charities.

    Our goal is to increase our giving each year. Sometimes I think maybe it’d be more fun to spend that money on ourselves, but I continue to give because practicing generosity has reduced my stress and worry over money and having enough.

  8. Tcmama – I totally agree. Giving is so personal, so when we get these articles about how certain organizations are more worthy than others it rubs me the wrong way.

  9. We give mostly to local charities where we have a personal connection–volunteer, board membership, etc. DSs school is having a capital campaign, and we have made a size able ( for us) pledge, so that will curtail giving to any new organizations.
    We don’t donate internationally except for disaster relief. There’s tremendous poverty in my own city, and I think we need to help there.

  10. I have been a bit more responsive to year end appeals this season, probably because our travel budget is going to be lower. The town food housing parks funds. Local cultural orgs. I support heavily one small organization that serves northern Haiti and also an out of state domestic violence organization for which a relative is board chair. Cat rescue, often not deductible. also try to pay some back to the institutions that gave me or my kids scholarships, technically charity but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I tend to do all my stock transfers at one time during the year when I have the feeling that the market is over ebullient.

  11. This is the week I do my annual charity contributions. We have relatives who prefer charity to gifts, so we will do that — things like local adopt-a-family trees, or a Toys for Tots down where my dad lives that is important to my stepmom. And probably the bulk of our charity is done with each paycheck per the United Way, and through various appeals at our offices through the year. But this week is when I sit down and write the checks to my alma maters and think about where their financial aid got me (which is also timely because a big chunk of my income comes on 12/31, and by this point I know what my distribution will be). Like Meme said, it doesn’t really feel like charity to me. More like gratitude for a debt I can’t repay and a compulsion to give another kid that opportunity. I know there are other, higher needs. But this is the one that is visceral to me.

  12. We give generously to our church, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and our alma mater. I actually want to quit giving to the school because IMO they simply don’t need the money and there are much better causes, particularly in impoverished countries. DH strongly disagrees and makes the point that he got a lot of need based financial aid and wants to give back. Guess we need to figure out a compromise in the future; I haven’t really pushed back.

    Totally agree with Rhett about the Red Cross. I have done some up close and personal work with that organization and have been totally unimpressed. Staff seems to spend most of the time fundraising.

  13. I mostly give throughout the year rather than writing big checks, and I think I’ve got them all on payroll deduction now. I give to my alma mater in two ways – to the athletic fund in exchange for priority in ticket purchases and to the specific academic program I helped to start in my former engineering discipline. I also serve on the board of a local nonprofit and donate monthly to that organization. I put cash in the offering plate at church whenever I attend, so I’m not tracking that very carefully, and I also usually buy something whenever there is a school fundraiser. Now that I’m on a tighter budget, I should probably do a better job of budgeting all of those incidental donations. Last year, my parents donated to my local nonprofit as my Christmas gift, but I’m not sure if they will do that again since they have been so generous in helping with my house purchase this year.

  14. The article says it is best to give money to overseas charities, but I have also often heard it is best to give to charities in your own backyard, because you understand the problems better. Probably the most effective use of money is to choose something local but less automatically sympathetic – perhaps mentally ill homeless people, or job training for prisoners.

  15. I often feel guilty about the charity cause that I donate to the most, pediatric cancer. Why spend a million dollars to cure one or two kids when that same money could prevent malaria deaths or polio deaths in lots of kids? But on the other hand, I work closely with the charities, so I know my money is being spent in effective ways, with very little overhead. I think that is the problem – our money is probably more effectively used when we give to charities that we know very well, but in terms of overall societal needs, those are probably the worst choices

  16. I refuse to be made to feel guilty for not giving to the perfect charities. I give to causes that j care about, and that I hope are not horribly mismanaged or corrupt. That’s good enough for me. I tend to give to local causes because I know them better – there are a few charities that my company supports that are worthwhile to me when I’ve seen them up close, so I send $$ there. Also, DS’s private school capital campaign, and the local food bank which has always been a pet cause of mine.

    I also donate in my mom’s name to her favorite charity each Xmas even though it wouldn’t be my first choice. She says she prefers this over things for herself. So I usually do that + some nice chocolates.

    It is a small % of our income that goes to charity. I keep track of it on a Google doc for tax time.

  17. Since I’m not working, we aren’t giving much this year.

    DH doesn’t have time to think about it, and I don’t feel comfortable giving away money I haven’t earned. If it’s small, like the church collection or a neighbor doing a walkathon for cancer research, I donate, but I don’t write large checks to schools these days.

    We give away an awful lot of stuff to our local goodwill, which I am aware is a mixed blessing to them. I also try to do more: taking a single mom’s kid after school so she doesn’t need to pay a sitter, or bringing the elderly neighbor with me to the store.

    When I had money of my own, I would look up the ratings of charities before I gave, to avoid those with a lot of administrative costs. I realize money is probably most needed abroad, but I became very cynical/cautious about that after donating generously to an orphanage whose children were later abused by the founder. I’d rather sponsor an animal at the local rehab center, which is staffed by people we know.

  18. I give to my high school and university scholarship funds, and I donate gifts in kind through my employer to the charter school my son attends. I believe passionately that education can be life changing. I give smaller amounts to other charities throughout the year. The only thing additional at the end of year is that I have my kids select a recipient of donation. I have tied it into Christmas because I got so tired of them getting asked so much “what do you want?” So now they have to discuss what they want to give as well. I prompt them with ideas, but realized this year they are old enough to research their options themselves, so will have them do that next year.

    I have also read some articles this year on the benefits of just giving cash directly. I find the articles on the scam-charities disheartening, so maybe that is the way to go.

  19. That’s a tough dilemma, Mooshi. I have people in my family touched by very rare diseases as well and it’s tough knowing that there will unlikely ever be a cure when only a few dozen people have a certain condition. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with donating to a cause close to you, especially life or death, even if it’s a smaller number of people. This could easily get into a side-track about utilitarianism vs. Kantianism vs. virtue ethics so I’ll stop.

  20. Don’t give to a big charity

    Much of our giving is to a few relatively small organizations, which gives us some benefits in being a big fish in a small pond. In addition to stroking our ego*, it gives us more power in learning details about how our money is spent. Because one of our children was born in a developing country that suffers from high poverty, a significant portion of our donations go there. We give very, very little to alma maters.

    * I say that with a smile, of course.

    “DH is very libertarian/stingy in this regard” — Hey, I resemble that remark. Libertarians are not stingy with their own money, only with yours. :)

  21. Our giving is done throughout the year, not at Christmastime/year end.
    We give a substantial amount to DD’s school every year, a similar amount to our church, smaller amounts to local charities, toys for tots, giving trees, food banks, etc, but the real bulk of our philanthropic efforts to cancer research. We are lobbied heavily by our alma maters all the time, but we have decided to focus on contributions to cancer research because we think by really focusing our contributions we can have the biggest impact. We may regret this decision when DD is applying to college.

  22. “Guess we need to figure out a compromise in the future”

    @Rio — our compromise is that I give, he doesn’t. Maybe our kids have a shot at one or two schools, at least. :-)

  23. We actually cut back our giving to our alma maters when our youngest was born. Our reasoning was we had about $25K less disposable income that year due to daycare and 529 contributions. We still haven’t increased it back to where it was because we’re trying to save a bunch of money over the next few years. Once we’re in a more comfortable position, we’ll make up for these leaner contribution years.

  24. We give to various local organizations throughout the year. I do not and will not give to the Red Cross. I feel that the management is overpaid while working for a non-profit. My problem with many non-profits is the bloated salaries and benefits to the upper echelon. Non-profits should have a cutoff as to what they pay top executives. I include college and universities, hospitals that claim non-profit status that should have a ceiling for executive pay.

    I give to the Salvation Army during the year and always throw a $ 20.00 in the bucket outside our supermarket in remembrance of my dad who was a big fan of the “Sallies.” Quite a few WWII veterans have/had a soft spot in their hearts for the Sallies and not so much for the Red Cross.

    Always give to St. Jude’s in remembrance of my niece who died from leukemia at age 8.

    We give to Wounded Warrior Project, Wreaths Across America (although someone alleges they are connected to the people who supply the wreaths), SPCA, local animal shelter and various local school causes and other community charities.

    Giving is good for the soul, it reminds you to be thankful for what you have.

  25. Wounded Warrior Project

    To me there should be no need for that. If a need exists the DoD* should be on the hook for it.

    * and by extension us.

  26. Non-profits should have a cutoff as to what they pay top executives. I include college and universities, hospitals that claim non-profit status that should have a ceiling for executive pay.

    I disagree. I think that hampers them too much in getting the best talent out there. Why would a strong CEO/COO etc. ever choose a tax-exempt health care system under that scenario?

  27. To me there should be no need for that. If a need exists the DoD* should be on the hook for it.
    * and by extension us

    @Rhett – that could be said of almost all the charities, we would have to just give more to the government.

  28. @Rhett – that could be said of almost all the charities, we would have to just give more to the government.

    Employers should be financially responsible for injuries employees suffer while engaged in their job duties. That’s fundamentally different from a kid with cancer.

  29. I agree with Rhett here- taking care of wounded veterans and their families should be part of the defense budget. It’s a real cost of war; account for it properly.

  30. Rhett – I can’t agree more. It boils my blood when we seem to give medical care to people that haven’t contributed in blood or money or even been in the country more than a few weeks or months. Our service people should receive the best care a grateful nation can give them.

    As far as getting the best talent – there is loads of talent around and we shouldn’t decide that a small class of people are the best in the nation – just had more luck or connections to get top tier jobs. There are plenty of people that would do a good job and not expect to rake in millions. Just see what talent comes out of the woodwork if the few at the top decided they weren’t being paid enough and dropped out.

    Read Barbarians at the Gate and you will realize that a whole CEO class was put in place instead of promoting within an organization. Also, once companies didn’t have to please the pension funds it was Katy bar the door for compensation and benefits. They wouldn’t have been able to get away with it if the pension funds were looking at their financials.

  31. I like donating to places I know need it, which are the ones that are special to me. I donate blankets, books, and formula to our NICU. I saw so many people in those halls that don’t have the support (emotionally or financially) that I feel compelled to help. I also donated unused/unopened specialty feeding bottles to DS’ surgical group. They are expensive, and we didn’t have to pay for any of the ones we had thanks to the doctor and family.

  32. The pediatric cancer charities I support are those that fund research directly. This is badly needed. A lot of research into adult cancer is funded by the pharmaceutical companies, but they have no interest in pediatric cancer. Alex’s Lemonade Stand is a good example – they have a board of researchers that choose to fund cutting edge research projects each year.

    I also give $100 per year to the engineering school at the university where I did my grad work. They were good to me, and I know the money will go to support engineering education. I also give money to Sandy Hook Promise and to the Brady Campaign, because for personal reasons I feel very strongly about gun control

  33. Also, once companies didn’t have to please the pension funds it was Katy bar the door for compensation and benefits.

    I can only speak to health care, since that’s the industry I’m in, but this is definitely not true in the non-profit health care world. Under IRS rules, executive compensation cannot be excessive and cannot amount to private benefit. There’s not a $$ cap, but the rules definitely prevent the scenario you’re discussing. The highest health care salaries are in public companies – for profit health systems, device and drug, and especially insurance companies. A cap on executive pay in tax-exempt entities would accomplish no good for the entity, and would really just amount to a sound bite. Makes people feel good – stick it to the rich! – but isn’t remotely the cause of problems in the delivery of healthcare.

  34. I agree with Rhett on DoD and Old Mom on charity/non-profit executive salaries. If you’re asking people to donate their hard-earned money, you should not be taking a salary that’s above, say, $250k. And I don’t believe anyone is that special that you can’t get someone for $250k to do an equivalent job.

  35. I think that they should be paid a fair salary, but it shouldn’t be outrageous. It is not a for profit corporation that they are being hired to run, AND they know it when they accept the position.

    I stopped donating to the red cross after 9/11. I think they are a wasted, bloated organization. It is usually easy enough to find a more trustworthy recipient if you still want to make a donation after a crisis such as Haiti, or other natural disasters.

  36. Milo – I would say being paid up to $500K would be ok depending on amount raised, # of staff, etc. It is actually an enormous amount of work to run a large charity with a lot of late hours and weekend work.

  37. I agree with Milo. I always figure if you work for a non-profit you expect to be paid less because its, you know, NON-PROFIT.

  38. Milo – I would say being paid up to $500K would be ok depending on amount raised, # of staff, etc. It is actually an enormous amount of work to run a large charity with a lot of late hours and weekend work.

    It’s not any more work than running any other business, and $500k is a reasonable salary for that. Executive pay has become a complete joke in this country.

  39. I think some of you are confusing the different types of tax-exempt entities. Many, many organizations are tax-exempt based on their classification as a research, health care, or education entity, but are in fact “real” businesses that are expected to make a profit year to year.

  40. Atlanta – They won’t get my money for paying out $500k salaries.*

    *Not that I’ve 1) ever really checked–but maybe I should, or 2) given significantly.

  41. And I don’t believe anyone is that special that you can’t get someone for $250k to do an equivalent job.

    Would that include surgeons and network security guys?

  42. I gave up on the Red Cross after the California wildfires in 1999, I think it was. There was a couple that the Red Cross wouldn’t give any money to because they said they had insurance so they didn’t need it, then they put a photo of the couple of the front of their website asking for donations to help the victims of the fires.

  43. Milo I think it totally depends on how much they are raising. If you’re raising $10 million and you’re paying those salaries, then no, that’s out of proportion. If you’re a talented executive who is increasing funds raised year over year so that that percentage of administrative costs continues to go down, you can have a better salary. I guess I think there is value with what a lot of non-profits do and if a talented executive is going to increase giving and better their program (and help more people) then I’m ok with a generous salary.

  44. I told my kids to gather up some toys that they don’t play with anymore to give to kids who don’t have as many toys as they do. My son told me he was getting rid of his Rudolph stuffed animal because its nose doesn’t glow anymore and that way he can get a new one. I think they are missing the charitable message I’m trying to impart here.

  45. Atlanta – My not-entirely-logical thinking is that the charities are competing against each other, and they have competing, but equally valid needs. If they’re doing so well raising so much money that the chief fundraiser can justify a $500k salary, then I’m pretty sure I can find another charity that is just as deserving and needs my donation more. There are a lot of very worthy causes where the people are working for peanuts, if anything.

  46. “Rudolph stuffed animal because its nose doesn’t glow anymore and that way he can get a new one. I think they are missing the charitable message I’m trying to impart here.”

    Well, when we make a Goodwill run, it’s not like I’m picking out my best suit or new shirts to drop off.

  47. And I don’t believe anyone is that special that you can’t get someone for $250k to do an equivalent job.

    So why do businesses ever pay more than $250k? I’m surprised you of all people thinks the free market is so flawed.

  48. Milo I can see your argument, I just like to look at overhead as a percentage vs. some arbitrary dollar amount. The Red Cross CEO makes a little north of $500k but they raised $600 million (so sort of a drop in the bucket). But as you said there are plenty of other organizations you can give your money too if that bothers you (The Drs Without Borders Executive Director only makes $165K and they raised $325 million in 2014)

  49. I thought that this Ted Talk was interesting about charities, especially when it comes to the analysis about how much is spent on overhead.

  50. I don’t care about paying for performance, even within the nonprofit world; the problem is that we don’t have good metrics to measure that — or at least that we can’t all agree on what those are. Is it contributions received? That’s an obvious metric, but doesn’t that mean that some other charity gets less? $$ sent out to do good in the world? % spent on the mission?

    Close-to-home example: my mom has done grant work for her school for, well, ever. She started out helping other faculty members informally, and she built a track record that was so impressive that the administration decided she was more valuable to the school writing grants than teaching Freshman comp, so they cut her teaching load to free up more time to write grants and began paying her a stipend for that work.

    Now there are new people on the job, and finances are tough, and they need to cut costs. So they now look at my mom and say, wait, I am paying her $X to write grants, when we have an admin here who can fill out the forms for free? And then we have to pay an adjunct to teach Freshman comp because she’s on this reduced schedule to write grants? That’s dumb — let’s shift the grant work to the admin, she can go back to teaching full-time, and then we can save the stipend AND the adjunct salary.

    So should these guys get promoted or fired? If your metric is operating costs, the decision’s a no-brainer — it’s not huge (academia, after all), but it’s probably low-five-figures of annual savings. But that metric misses the fact that grant-writing isn’t just checking boxes, and this new person has neither the knowledge nor the skills to do it well; at best, there will be a significant drop-off in inflows until the new person gets on her feet and develops the skills. So IMO, they are about to make a facially-logical but really, really dumb-ass decision, even though their metrics say it is awesome.

  51. From the Ted Talk

    And the answer is, these social problems are massive in scale, our organizations are tiny up against them, and we have a belief system that keeps them tiny. We have two rulebooks. We have one for the nonprofit sector, and one for the rest of the economic world. It’s an apartheid, and it discriminates against the nonprofit sector in five different areas, the first being compensation.

    So in the for-profit sector, the more value you produce, the more money you can make. But we don’t like nonprofits to use money to incentivize people to produce more in social service. We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interestingly, we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.

    And we think of this as our system of ethics, but what we don’t realize is that this system has a powerful side effect, which is: It gives a really stark, mutually exclusive choice between doing very well for yourself and your family or doing good for the world, to the brightest minds coming out of our best universities, and sends tens of thousands of people who could make a huge difference in the nonprofit sector, marching every year directly into the for-profit sector because they’re not willing to make that kind of lifelong economic sacrifice. Businessweek did a survey, looked at the compensation packages for MBAs 10 years out of business school. And the median compensation for a Stanford MBA, with bonus, at the age of 38, was 400,000 dollars. Meanwhile, for the same year, the average salary for the CEO of a $5 million-plus medical charity in the U.S. was 232,000 dollars, and for a hunger charity, 84,000 dollars. Now, there’s no way you’re going to get a lot of people with $400,000 talent to make a $316,000 sacrifice every year to become the CEO of a hunger charity.

    Some people say, “Well, that’s just because those MBA types are greedy.” Not necessarily. They might be smart. It’s cheaper for that person to donate 100,000 dollars every year to the hunger charity; save 50,000 dollars on their taxes — so still be roughly 270,000 dollars a year ahead of the game — now be called a philanthropist because they donated 100,000 dollars to charity; probably sit on the board of the hunger charity; indeed, probably supervise the poor SOB who decided to become the CEO of the hunger charity; and have a lifetime of this kind of power and influence and popular praise still ahead of them.

    The second area of discrimination is advertising and marketing. So we tell the for-profit sector, “Spend, spend, spend on advertising, until the last dollar no longer produces a penny of value.” But we don’t like to see our donations spent on advertising in charity. Our attitude is, “Well, look, if you can get the advertising donated, you know, to air at four o’clock in the morning, I’m okay with that. But I don’t want my donation spent on advertising, I want it go to the needy.” As if the money invested in advertising could not bring in dramatically greater sums of money to serve the needy.

  52. Atlanta Mom – this Ted Talk really made me think. It challenged a lot of my thinking about non-profits and how they should be run and evaluated.

  53. A lot of the resistance to highly paid charity executives is probably rooted in class envy, and maybe that’s OK. In contrast to the private sector comparison, you’re not selling people iPads; you’re asking them to sacrifice their own money for a greater cause. But it’s hard to ask someone who’s making $100k a year to sacrifice some of their money to your cause when you’re demanding $500k a year out of the same till. Maybe that doesn’t matter, because the $100k folks don’t give that much, anyway, or they only do so when inspired by their friends dumping buckets of ice on themselves, but that’s what it ultimately boils down to. The TED talk doesn’t change that.

    People don’t want to see their donations spent on advertising for the same reasons that people up-thread said they prefer to donate locally to see the good it’s doing.

  54. A lot of the resistance to highly paid charity executives is probably rooted in class envy

    That’s part of it. Although, I’d say most people are like you in that they can’t quite wrap their heads around why they need to pay someone more than $250k.

  55. Rhett – since the federal government and the military can get their top executives for that level of pay, I kind of think that charities would really be able to do the same if they tried.

  56. I think it might be a good idea to distinguish between non-profits and charities. Non-profits are organizations that don’t have publicly-traded stock. I’ve worked for non-profits where we didn’t get individual donor contributions at all. I think a lot of hospitals are non-profits that don’t rely heavily on donors. Perhaps Milo would be more accepting of a highly-paid exec in a non-profit that was essentially a business and didn’t ask for contributions.

    So for instance the director of the American Theological Library Association makes about $250K. Really the only thing that organization does is produce the ATLA index for libraries. They sell it to libraries and that’s where the revenue comes from. Given what I personally know about that situation I think it’s outrageous, but I wouldn’t think so if I didn’t know the parties involved.

  57. Rhett – Wow. And they say that we can’t afford any defense cuts. I used to work for the current CNO, and he knew me on a first name basis. I remember running into him at the airport when we were both flying coach on the same flight, back when he was much lower than he is now, so I always picture him flying cheap commercial.

  58. Milo,

    I can’t speak for the military, but one of the reasons that the federal government can attract talented people for important positions is that those people are investing in their future compensation in the private sector (or their future political career) by accepting a temporary pay cut in the public sector.

  59. “Non-profits are organizations that don’t have publicly-traded stock.”
    I don’t think that is true. A company that does not have publically traded stock is simply a privately held company. They are still a for profit.

    As for outsize compensation in the non-profit sector, just look at the compensation of university football coaches, and (some) university presidents

  60. Regarding government/military pay- my BIL is fine with making peanuts as a young officer because he knows it will make a great resume for a law career, or especially his dream of being a politician. He also seems more motivated by prestige and power than money, IMO.Think a much nicer, much younger version of Frank Underwood.

  61. A non-profit is ONE TYPE of organization that doesn’t have publicly-traded stock.

  62. The hospitals around here ask us for donations all of the time. It drives me nuts that if I go there for a procedure, they send me magazines about their wonderfulness and non stop requests for money. In the case of a children’s hospital, it is 8 years later and they’re still asking for money.

  63. Tangent to Lauren: if I sort of know a talented Hispanic high school freshman whose parents did not attend college in the US, is there anything you’d tell her about college admissions? She is the oldest of 3 children spread over ~5 years, estimated family income ~$130k of which some probably goes to support elderly parents in the parents’ country of origin, so theoretical FAFSA family contribution probably not going to happen. Apply to private colleges or stick with less expensive choices? Possibly National Hispanic Scholar possibly NMSF, not sure how high her aptitude is, likely will have good high school resume.

  64. You didn’t ask me, but I would encourage her to apply to both less expensive “financial safeties” (either cheap or places likely to give her generous merit money) and also more expensive private colleges. Financial aid policies vary wildly between schools. Especially some wealthy elite schools may still be quite generous around that income level. Applications are cheap relative to the investment of college, so it makes sense to apply lots of places and compare financial aid and other considerations once acceptances roll in. Better to spend the time and bit of extra money on extra applications and then have lots of choices hopefully spring of senior year.

  65. Completely off-topic, but I’m in my car listening to Christmas music. Favorite thing about this time of year is unlimited repeats of Wham! singing Last Christmas. Life just doesn’t get any better.

  66. I looked at our Christmas cards again and saw two that came from the charities we support. I was thinking to myself – that they could have repurposed the card budget to better use.

  67. My pet peeve this holiday season: All the blast “Happy Holidays” e-mails I am receiving from professional contacts. Yes, it is much easier and less expensive to send a single e-mail to everyone on your contacts list, rather than a printed card to each person, but honestly, why even bother? I would think better of someone who sent nothing at all vs. someone who sent me a generic e-mail greeting. For my part, I sent cards this season to my clients and business contacts, each containing a a personal, hand-written message. So bah humbug! And get off my lawn!

    Everything else about the season has been lovely, though. :)

  68. People are conflating things.

    When you form a corporation, there are 2 basic types (generally) – stock and non-stock. This is a matter of state law. This is the corporate side

    Then, there is the (federal) tax side. Being tax-exempt and having people be able to deduct contributions. Your typical 501(c)(3) status. You can also be tax-exempt but contributions cannot be deducted.

    Securities side – whether you are traded on an exchange (e.g., You are listed on Nasdaq and because of that, you now have to follow its rules plus the public company rules) or a reporting (to the SEC) company

  69. WCE, since she is a freshman, I would also urge her to make sure she takes the high school classes competitive schools expect to see. I had a few friends back in the dark ages who satisfied our high school’s distribution requirements but unwittingly shut themselves out of certain state U majors because they dropped foreign language or math too soon.

    Is she at a high school with AP options? The prep schools here offer scholarships to minority kids with top scores, but I have no idea what’s available near you. From what my friends said it is very difficult socially to be the scholarship kid at those schools, but if scholarships are available near you, it may be worth it depending on the public options available.

    FWIW, my parents found it cheaper to send us to private colleges with need-based aid than it would have been to send us to the state school – the state U had a lower sticker price but the need-based aid was nearly all loans instead of grants.

    She should not apply early decision anywhere without talking to the financial aid office first; some schools will give an estimate of the aid package. Even the Ivies will negotiate on the aid package if they want you, but not until the regular admission season.

  70. Team Lark! I hope to hell that the Mayo Clinic and Duke Hospital System and MSK pays its employees top wages.

  71. She goes to the high school near Land Grant U and will take challenging courses including AP. We don’t have any prep schools. The only hurdle might be if colleges expect 3-4 years of foreign language, since she’s already moderately fluent in Spanish and tested into Spanish III. One would hope schools have a protocol for that…

    I think one challenge to diversity on college campuses is that some cultures (Asian, Jewish) seem to value/expect a high level of educational investment in women more than others (Hispanic, LDS, conservative Christian). The girl I described may want to be able to stay home/work part-time like her Mom, which loans for private school might preclude.

  72. WCE, you may have a point – I never met an LDS or conservative Christian woman at school or work (or anywhere, really, until I sent my kids to a very religious preschool).

  73. The decisions that will optimize her options for less/no student loans are the same ones that will optimize her options for admissions to elite colleges. She needs to take the most rigorous schedule reasonably possible for her abilities, show dedication and leadership in extracurriculars, and do whatever it takes to maximize her standardized test scores. She won’t know how expensive private school will or won’t be until she applies 3 years from now- and it may very well be a similar cost or cheaper. At Princeton for instance families under $140k income pay no tuition. Frankly, if she wants to be a SAHM she’s probably more likely to meet her intellectual match and a guy that can support that at a more elite school. I’m not saying she should choose a school based on that, but statistically it’s probably true. Just trying to make the point that maximizing your educational experience in no way conflicts with not necessarily wanting a full-time career.

    If she maxes out on Spanish after only a year or two, can she pick up French or another language? If nothing else is offered at her school, there’s no way any college will hold it against her. They just want to see that you’ve made the most of the opportunities at your high school in terms of rigor.

  74. Is the student the first in her family to attend college, or did her parents attend college in another country? the elite schools are really trying to find students that are the first in their family to attend college, and have demonstrated that they can handle a rigorous course load. The admissions officers will assume that a kid like this might not have parents or counselors that knew all of the right classes to take in HS.

    She is still so young, and she should try to take courses that she will enjoy and excel. As long as she demonstrates that she took challenging courses….then she doesn’t need four years in every subject if it isn’t offered in her school. There are significant differences in the amount of merit aid or financial aid that an elite school will offer a candidate. This may vary a lot depending on the school endowment. For example, some of the top 30 schools just don’t have the financial resources to offer a child like this enough money to attend. They’re caught in a tough spot because they might really want her to attend, but they might only be able to cover a portion of her costs. There are other elite schools that may be able to give her almost all of the money she needs because their endowment is so much larger. I don’t think this is something she has to focus on as a freshman. If she really excels in HS – the schools will find her, and they will find the money.

    I just went to dinner with a friend that lives in a very wealthy zip code in Long Island. Similar story – oldest of three kids is a senior in HS. The difference is that both of these parents have masters degrees, and they live in a very expensive town. I was surprised to learn that their daughter was already offered $38K in merit aid to Tulane, and $20K in merit aid to Northeastern. I would guess that their family income is about $200K. The daughter doesn’t have any special athletic or music skills. Just a really smart girl from a great public school -and no diversity of any kind.

    She applied to several top 25 schools in the regular process, and now they will wait to hear. They also have two more kids that will attend college so the money is an important factor in the decision.

  75. Thanks for the advice. Her parents went to college in their country, but I don’t know how familiar they are with the importance of high school course selection, etc. here. A student whose parents went to college in another country may still not have the cultural family background that elite US colleges expect. It’s helpful to know that if she maxes out Spanish, it’s OK to focus on other areas.

  76. . In contrast to the private sector comparison, you’re not selling people iPads; you’re asking them to sacrifice their own money for a greater cause. But it’s hard to ask someone who’s making $100k a year to sacrifice some of their money to your cause when you’re demanding $500k a year out of the same till. Maybe that doesn’t matter, because the $100k folks don’t give that much, anyway, or they only do so when inspired by their friends dumping buckets of ice on themselves, but that’s what it ultimately boils down to. The TED talk doesn’t change that.

    Yes, this. It’s what people feel like they are getting for their money. When you (the general you) buy an ipad, or a shirt, or a car, or whatever other consumer good, your concern is if what you are getting is worth your money. The same goes for charitable donations – you want what you get to be worth your money. And with donations, “what you get” is the knowledge that you are helping the cause. So when you see a CEO of a charity making $500k or whatever, the impression (right or wrong) is that your money is going into this person’s pocket instead of helping the cause.

    Most people aren’t thinking through the line of “this guy is developing the business and bringing in much more in donations so his salary is justified.” And the potential donors who actually do think along that line can’t help but also think “Is this guy really that much better at his job than someone thay could hire for $200k?”

  77. we give more at this time of year, in keeping with our strategic intent. We have identified charitable orgs and we give to almost all of them on an annual basis only and that happens to fall at the the end of the calendar year. The exception is the parish; we give there pretty evenly every month.
    Is annual or more frequently (but the same annual amount) better? Maybe for the org’s financial planners.

  78. “More like gratitude for a debt I can’t repay and a compulsion to give another kid that opportunity. I know there are other, higher needs. ”

    See, at least for my undergrad, I give it to “chancellor’s greatest needs” which means in some small way I might end up helping mankind if the researchers there find the cure for cancer or HIV etc. Not so much for grad (business) school but it’s where DW and I met so we feel strongly about the place.

  79. I read WCE’s question about the Hispanic student. I think in the coming years (perhaps not now), there will be a wave of qualified students with similar backgrounds. The schools they go to will be more surburban and though they may be first generation to enter college – there will be very little in their educationanal backgrounds to suggest that. I know a number of younger kids of similar backgrounds that are friends with my kids. I think at that point the colleges will have have to decide not based on race and income but on income alone.

  80. “She applied to several top 25 schools in the regular process, and now they will wait to hear.”

    That’s a lot of applications, but it’s a good strategy if you’re looking for merit aid. Tulane is known for offering generous merit aid, with about 10% of students receiving full-tuition scholarships last time I checked. They are also known for seeking students who show a high level of interest.

    WCE – You’ve received good advice, particularly Rio at 7:35.

    “Apply to private colleges or stick with less expensive choices?”

    Both, of course. But even with financial aid a student like this could end up not really affording some private colleges. A $20,000 aid package sounds good until you realize that still leaves $160,000 bill over 4 years. And then there’s the extra travel costs if the distance is significant. A west coast student like that might be particularly attractive to east coast colleges, enabling them to check off both ethnic and geographic diversity boxes. Plus keep in mind that most merit packages require maintaining a certain GPA level, and some can be quite high.

  81. “ I think at that point the colleges will have have to decide not based on race and income but on income alone.”

    I don’t know if there’s much pressure to change since diversity based on race is still so highly valued. Plus, low-income students have higher drop-out rates, and the schools want to avoid that.

  82. NMF in general, and especially a Hispanic NMF, will have a lot of generous grant aid options, from both privates, e.g., USC, Northeastern, and publics, e.g., Bama, Oklahoma, ASU. Many of those options may be noncompetitive, and at the public’s May include admission to honors colleges.

    If that girl is that bright and a good student, a lot of doors will open for her, especially if she follows the advice to take a rigorous courseload.

  83. Anecdata WRT less than 3 years of language: DS’ friend, the one whose essay DS reviewed, only took 3 years of language. She started at level 2, having taken the equivalent of level 1 in MS. She found that easy, so she did self-study the summer after freshman year and tested out of level 3, then took levels 4 & 5.

    Her safety school is H, having been accepted based on her early application, which suggests that less than 4 years of language is not necessary to get into a good.school.

  84. WCE, one of the reasons I chose the schools I did was the hope that having highly prestigious names on the resume would make it easier to renter the workforce after children: I thought people are more likely to overlook a gap in a resume that says Harvard than State U.

    I will report back on whether that turns out to be right :)

  85. Oh, sorry, Lauren. Read that wrong. Thought it was 25 schools she applied to, which is not unheard of.

  86. Sky, your strategy of having a prestigious school name on your resume may work, but I could see it backfire in some cases.

    Recently I have seen that a prestigious school name is important in fields other than banking or elite law firms. One interviewer actually pointed out how the school name caught their attention, and I can see how that happens as a sort of screening mechanism in various fields. It’s only one factor, of course. Conversely, other employers like a particular State U or fraternity or similar and may screen candidates with that in mind.

  87. CoC, I also read here about how a degree from a prestigious school can also matter in academia.

  88. @Sky – do report back. What type of position are you seeking – full steam ahead, flexible, part time ?

  89. Fred, how is the trip going?

    My in-laws got here last night, and everyone but my 3 yo and I just left to see Star Wars. So I get some quiet downtime while my youngest plays with the toys that the older two would otherwise hoard.

    Yesterday, our nanny was responsible for all three of them, and to get them out of the house, she took them to her parents’ house, where she lives. Her Mom runs a small catering business, so the kitchen is elaborate, and they helped make a ton of Christmas cookies.

  90. i think I want to see Star Wars, but no one in my house is interested in going with me. I don’t know how or why, but DH has never seen a Star Wars movie. He is just not interested. I have to figure out if I can go with a friend, or just go alone after the school break. We still have a full day of school here today, and I am running around with some last minute errands. There is so much traffic every where because it seems like everyone is shopping for something.

    i think the brand name school can be hit or miss. I’ve definitely worked for people that won’t hire someone from Harvard, but they are comfortable with a kid from Cornell. It really depends on the firm and the hiring manager. I know this is petty, but I once didn’t want to hire a kid from a college that beat my alma mater in a basketball championship game. it was before google, so he wouldn’t have know that I went to another school. He was straight out of school and he even worked for the team as some sort of gopher. He was going on, and on about the school and the team. I finally told him where I went to college, and you could see his face crumble as he realized his mistake. We ended up with a hiring freeze, so it didn’t matter in this case. It just demonstrates that you never know why someone might hire/not hire from a candidate from a particular school.

  91. I am the one who handles most of the giving decisions. First, each of the kids schools has an annual campaign with a cute name that is basically to “fund the gap” between tuition and actual costs and also tends to fill technology needs. Next, I give to a scholarship fund managed by an organization I belong to. Third, is scouting, but not as much as we give lots of our time and in-kind donations during the year. Fourth, I have a specialty license plate where part of my annual registration goes to my university. Lastly, is a lot of the one-off things, not big amounts usually.
    I gave to my private high school a token amount every year until my kids started private school, then it was redirected to their tuition.

    Shortly after I graduated with my masters, I was approached to give to my university. I did so for several years. Then one year when they called they got my then husband who was also an alum (graduated a few years a head of me), but had never donated. The conversation ended with him agreeing to change the donation to “our” name instead of “my” name and he didn’t up the donation or contribute to it. After I found out, I never donated again in that way. They called to find out why I wasn’t giving and I flat out told them, you should talk to the person who is writing you the check.

  92. “DH has never seen a Star Wars movie.”

    Neither had I until about a year ago when DW got one on Netflix for me to watch. It’s fine, but it’s just not my thing. I don’t understand the hype at all.

  93. MBT: I love Wham! and totally agree on Last Christmas.

    I’m deep in holiday mode here. We are at my sister’s house and watched “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” last night. Packing presents and hanging out with family. We’re seeing Star Wars on 12/24. It’s fun to have young kids running around, when I usually deal with my two teen-aged kids.

    Next week, DH and the kids are going skiing and I am spending a week alone at home. Everyone in my family, except my kids, is very disconcerted by this. Introverts–how do you make your family understand that you sometimes need time alone?

  94. I watched Star Wars movies once a few years ago with Mr WCE and also don’t really get the hype. I should watch them again so I can follow my boys’ conversation. I (mostly) just don’t like movies. I’m too hyper to sit still that long and I’m always behind on housework so usually do that when kids are in bed.

    Rio, I’ve been thinking more about your comment and I think it’s spot on. The family is conservative Catholic and I doubt that moving to the East Coast for a career in finance or investment banking would be on her horizon. My AP Scholar LDS babysitters are considering medical careers like dental hygienist, nurse/nurse practitioner, that allow for work/family balance and re-entry, not that they expect to be lifelong SAHM’s. When I say certain religious cultures don’t value education as much as Jews/Asians, it’s more that they don’t value prestigious colleges in the way many Totebaggy families do. For my babysitters, Dad has a master’s in statistics from Land Grant U, Mom has a math teaching degree and for most jobs around here, people don’t care where you went to school. One of my friends who went to MIT was unemployed for over a year because there were no jobs and he didn’t want to move his family.

    From what I hear from acquaintances on the East Coast, where you went to school is a much bigger deal there.

  95. I am stunned at the people who never saw Star Wars. I guess the young’uns weren’t around for the original trilogy. My family has even been attending the staged readings of the Shakespearean versions of the original trilogy that a local theater group has been doing every May the Fourth. (Leia’s soliloquy in the Empire Striketh Back was especially good.)

    We will be going to see it in 3D IMAX some time after Xmas. We have been doing cold hiking in Kaleberg land and are now back in the realm of wifi, though perhaps only temporarily.

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