Sunday, July 23, 2006


Every since learning in 2002 that his wife has multiple sclerosis, my friend David has participated in The Great Mass Getaway MS 150 Bike Tour. He and his oldest daughter join hundreds of others in a bicycle ride from Boston to Provincetown, Mass. All solicit donations from friends and family as sponsors, with the funds going to support multiple-sclerosis research.

And every year I get an e-mail from David letting me know about the ride, asking for my help, if I can give it, and giving me a link to a Web site through which I can make a donation.

My wife and I get several such requests during the year, and we support our friends and family as much as possible. I had never thought to ask whether it was appropriate for friends and family members to tug on the heartstrings of their loved ones in order to generate support for their own causes.

Some of my readers have, however.

C.K. of Yorba Linda, Calif., sent me a form letter that she recently received from a family member asking for financial support for a religious mission she was hoping to go on. The letter laid out the details of the mission, which involved working on construction projects in an impoverished area of a foreign country, and mentioned that, while the cost of the trip was $350, the letter writer still needed to raise $260.

“In my day,” writes my reader, who identifies herself as a senior citizen,"I would have worked hard all year long to pay for this trip … never thinking of asking for help."

Nonetheless, C.K. ultimately sent her relative $10.

Granted, the number of charitable events and of people seeking funds to support their participation in those events seems to grow every year. At some point each of us will surely find his or her resources stretched to the point that we can’t afford to fund every request that comes in, even if we’re inclined to do so.

But the prospective mission-goer gave C.K. an alternative to giving money: "If you can’t support me financially,” she wrote, “the team and myself would appreciate your prayers, not only during the trip, but also the preparation."

This is not unusual. My friend David also tells recipients of his e-mail that he’ll understand if they can’t support him in his ride this year.

Should C.K.’s family member work hard to earn as much as she can to fund her own trip? Yes, she should. The same is true of David, who I assume makes independent contributions to fund research into the disease he and his family live with every day.

But if the effort to raise more funds than any one individual can contribute to a worthy cause means reaching out to others, who better to solicit than family and friends? We aren’t, after all, being asked to fund a frivolous purchase, a luxurious vacation or an extravagant birthday party, the costs of which obviously should fall on the shoulders of those who want these things.

The right thing for those who are solicited on behalf of such causes is to decide if they can and want to give to whatever they’re being asked to support. If they can’t or don’t want to, they should feel absolutely no guilt. The request for support imposes no obligation whatever on its recipient.

But there’s no harm in asking or in being asked. Friends or family members who ask for donations show nothing more than their desire to go as far as they can to support something they consider worthy.

Speaking of which, you can find more information about participation in the MS Bike Tour on the Web site of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at


Anonymous said...

Whenever you are approached by anyone regarding genuine concerns and needs, you should be happy to contribute what you can afford to give. Selfishly, you never know when you will need the help of others! Be kind and make the donation of time or money!

Anonymous said...

I find your statement "We aren't being asked to fund a frivolous purchase, a luxurious vacation or an extravagant birthday party, the costs of which obviously should fall on the shoulders of those who want those things." to be quite ironic.

I ride in a bike club where each year this rider named Steve tries to sign up at least 50 people to participate in the MS 150 charity ride. The entry fee is at least $350 - paid by pledges (or more likely paid by the rider himself/herself). Steve's goal is to be the top fundraiser team for this particular MS 150 ride. We knew ahead of time that riders would get "free" gifts such as socks and a bike jersey. Riders who raise over $1000 get a "free" massage and an invite to the VIP tent for drinks and a meal. The topper is that Steve's team was the top fund raising team in 2005. For that, Steve received a one week cycling trip to Tuscany, Italy for himself.

Steve said that taking the trip made him feel guilty, but the MS 150 people told him it was good advertising for the charity ride. We know that the trip cost at least $5,000 and maybe up to $10,000. He told us he stayed in first class villas and castles and had a fabulous time.

If you don't believe that top fundraisers in the MS 150 ride get "luxurious vacations", check out their web site at:
They only describe a 3 day luxury vacation for teams that raise over $20,000. They don't mention that the trip is upgraded to a week for top fundraisers over $50,000.

Just thought you should know all the facts.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind being approached by friends and family for charity events they are personally involved in; however, they understand that I might not be able to give as much as they would like. My choice is to give a little bit here and there rather than more to only one. I try to help, as your other writer suggests, bcause you don't know when you or your family may need help. IF I am unable to give at the time, I will say so, without guilt. Sometimes, it just happens that way. But before I say no, I really try to search for a means to give a donation.

Telemarketers soliciting for donations are quite another thought; I simply tell them to send me the information to review. If they won't/can't ...I won't/can't send them any money either.

In cases where I would try to raise money for trips (as suggested), I agree that it would be my responsibility to raise my own traveling money. Mentioning my trip (without asking for donations) and spreading the word will get others as curious and excited as I would be. Those that can will help you; but if you really want to make the dedication and comittment, do it by raising your own traveling expenses by working, saving, etc.

Charities that give large rewards for raising money make me wonder why this amount is not applied to the charity? How much would that help their cause ? Personally, if I had the option of "winning a tshirt" or putting the value towards the charity, I'd donate the cost of the tshirt; I realize the trip is not a tshirt; but the value of it will help SOMEONE/SOMEWAY in the charity. After all, that is why you are raising funds; to help someone less fortunate. A reward is nice; but in charities; the need is there. Otherwise, no need for fundraising ....

Bottom line, check out the organization and how much of it goes directly to the charity. Also, give if you can, but if you really can't, that's ok, others will as they can. It all balances out in the end.