--by Mike Murray
You go to bed most nights wondering if you'll be able to keep it all together much longer. You know that if you don't, others will suffer.
A big budget, an endowment, perhaps even the luxury of paid workers -- those are for other non-profits. Fancy commercials? Celebrity endorsers? Please. You're lucky if you can manage a humble newsletter twice each year. And even at that, you find yourself doing much of the work (and bearing a large part of the expense) getting it out.
Your agency is one of many thousands of "mom and pops," organizations that are on the front lines of human and animal suffering. You and your compassionate colleagues serve those stuck on the bottom rung of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" ladder.
You serve the most desperate among us: those in search of a roof for their heads and food for their bellies. You serve those who seek little more than shelter from physical harm. Those who, quite literally, might perish without your help.
You don't really begrudge other worthy causes their success. Tsunami relief, help for hurricane victims, aid to hospitals that assist critically ill children and their families ...who could be against donations for such purposes? Certainly not you.
But you are convinced that appeals for donations to schools (donations primarily intended to enhance sports programs that are already heavily emphasized) make no sense at all. Not when there are truly desperate among us struggling to get by.
And as you watch millions pour in for popular causes, you cannot help but wonder if some folks routinely ignore the needy all around them. Every time you turn on your television, open a magazine, or pass through the door of a department store you are confronted with a pitch for one of the same few organizations. And you sigh.
You are exhausted by your altruistic efforts. You watch helplessly as the mega-sized charities suck all of the oxygen (and cash) out of the room. You know that many of them perform essential services for society, too. But at what cost?
How many of their staffers demonstrate the deep personal commitment that yours do by working for free (or for greatly reduced compensation)? The representatives of those large organizations regularly ask us to dig deep, to sacrifice. You wonder: do they? You hope so.
You know that people only have so much to give. You know because they tell you so. You'd like to think that folks could help causes endorsed by Hollywood hot shots and still find a few bucks to contribute to hand-to-mouth charities in their own communities. Charities that do so much good. Charities that often serve as a last-gasp safety net. But you know that money is tight for most people.
Many of them have specific amounts that they feel comfortable donating each year. Which is precisely why you cringe when would-be donors to agencies like yours are relentlessly pursued by giant non-profits -- pursued via costly annual-fund campaigns with which you have no hope of competing.
You feel guilty pressing your own underpaid (or completely unpaid) staff for financial assistance. But your creditors don't accept Fruit Loops in payment. You find yourself approaching houses of worship, seeking space on "giving trees" and such. You don't ask for much on behalf of your down-trodden clients: a pair of gloves, some warm socks, a little kibble.
You're grateful for any assistance. But you cannot help but be a little resentful. In addition to the countless commercials for favored causes, your senses are assaulted by a television ad.
In it, a guy embarks on an expensive jaunt to an exotic place with his wife and another couple. He boasts that when he retires, he and his spouse will able to take trips like this "whenever we want." He's planned well, you see; he'll have plenty of cash.
You contemplate that as you ponder your own meager bank account. You've sacrificed much in order to ease the suffering of others. You hope that the braggart in the commercial does at least something for the less fortunate. You hope that he sets just a little aside in his estate for the disadvantaged.
You pray that he won't one day be driving around in a luxury car sporting a bumper sticker that is popular in some retirement communities: "We're spending our children's inheritance." If such people are unmoved by their own offspring, what chance do needy strangers have?
Your day has finally ended. You go to sleep this night as you so often do: weary and worried. May God bless you and give you the strength to continue scraping by.
Copyright © 2006 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.