I don't know if it's the sudden good weather or the assumption that everybody has their income tax refunds by now, but I'm just about at the end of my rope.
For the last month or so, I've been barraged by telemarketers calling on behalf of charities. It's gotten to the point where I'm afraid to answer my phone. I've been getting an average of three or four calls a week that give me a 30-second rundown on how their particular cause needs my humble contribution to survive.
How can one possibly criticize an organization dedicated to doing good? I would like to state for the record that I am definitely not anti-charity. On principle and in practice I support these organizations. In fact, I have a feeling that's how I got on their contact lists.
In the last two months I've supported the War Amps, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, the Organ Donation and Transplant Association of Canada and others. When somebody makes a donation, like good gossip in the high school bathroom, word gets around quick, and pretty soon everybody's been told that so-and-so is a soft touch. Then it's open season.
It all stopped for me when I got a call from the Shrine Circus. I'd happily made a donation to the group a couple of weeks before. Evidently, that wasn't enough. The charity phoned once again, supposedly to thank me for my support. Unfortunately, the caller said, the group hadn't reached its anticipated level of donations. It had fallen short. Could I find it in my heart to donate once more? For those poor kids?
That's when I started feeling uncomfortable. Nobody wants to say no to poor, sick kids. I had visions of a group of Shriners in their fezes chasing me down the street. But I'd already given one donation, and I thought it was in bad taste for the group to phone again.
Then came a call from Pediatric AIDS. I'd already given to one AIDS organization. Telemarketing was officially changing to teleguilting. It was charity abuse. These organizations are going to the well a few times too often.
When I visited India last year, I was warned by some local people to beware of giving money to the unfortunately numerous street urchins in the cities. Word would get out, they said, and I would face the danger of being swarmed. I guess telemarketing is the high-tech version.
Consider my financial position as a native playwright and journalist: take the number of native plays you've seen in the last year, multiply it by the number of native books you've bought in that same time period and divide by the number of registered charities listed. My mother thinks my career choice is the biggest tragedy in the last half-century.
As a result of these constant calls, I've got answering the phone down to an art. There's always a two-second delay when you pick up the phone till somebody comes on the line. Just enough time to say "hello" twice, I've discovered. Then there's an audible click. I believe it's the computer registering the fact that a person has indeed picked up the phone, and not an answering machine. When I can say "hello" two times, I know something's amiss and hang up.
As I write this, on my desk is an official tax receipt from the Canadian Liver Foundation. Attached to it is a letter from the volunteer chair stating, "We have achieved so much, thanks to you, but there is still so much to learn about liver disease and the affects it can have on your overall health. That is why I am asking you to consider making an additional gift today...."
Right beside it is a donation pledge from the Allergy/Asthma Information Association waiting to be filled out. Part of me wants to, but another part of me is screaming, "Enough already!" Charity may begin at home, but this month I think it's moved.
CHARITIES TALK BACK
War Amps : "The War Amps does not do telephone or door-to-door solicitation at all. The only way of raising funds is to mail out our key tags at the beginning of the year, and address labels later." Adele Fifield, director of the National Amputee Centre
Shriners Hospital for Children (Canada) : "We don't actively solicit. We [just] acknowledge donations. Our donors list is very confidential. Shrine Centres call on behalf of the Circus. People buy tickets, and unless they specify, they are going to get calls again." Daniel Taillefer, communications officer
Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research : "We do share lists. They're usually other health-type organizations." Shawn Brunemeijer, direction of development
Organ Donation and Transplant Association : "We receive tens of thousands of donations each year and send out a standard thank-you letter. We receive very few complaints." Janine Christie, communications officer