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November 2003
Animal Charity: Give, Give, Give

By Jack Rosenberger


As I write these words a large raven and 16 mourning doves are around or eating at the bird feeder in our backyard. A garden of birds. I treasure the sight and sound—watching them peck at seeds on the ground beneath the feeder or waiting on the nearby tree branches for a vacant spot on the feeder’s two ledges—and I feel good about myself for helping the birds (and squirrels) survive in this increasingly developed suburban pocket of Westchester County. Yet, I know my daily feedings help only a small, particular group of nonhuman animals.

Besides being a vegan or vegetarian, one of the most practical, lasting ways to help nonhuman animals is by donating your time and money to pro-animal organizations. Like other movements for social justice, the animal rights community needs plenty of financial and creative help if it will continue to grow and prosper. Without it, animal groups cannot create lasting societal change, let alone survive.

Which means animal advocates like you and me need to be generous with our time and money. “Money is like manure,” former New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug liked to say. “If you keep it, it makes a stinking mess of your life. But if you get it out there and spread it around, it makes things grow.”

In 2000, Americans who claimed charitable contributions on their federal income taxes gave an average of $3,636 per tax return, according to the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy. Approximately 70 percent of households give to charity each year. The largest recipients of the public’s generosity are institutions in the fields of religion, health, arts, and education. Very, very little of the money donated from the public, bequests, foundations, or corporations goes to pro-animal organizations.

This is a good time of year to think about your personal animal philanthropy. For those of you who are interested in increasing the ante, here are some modest suggestions:

Plan regular contributions. One of the best ways to help animal organizations is to make monthly or quarterly contributions to one or more groups—bill a set amount to a credit card or send a check on a regular basis.

Be enterprising—find other ways to donate. You can sell unwanted belongings via eBay or hold a yard sale and donate the earnings; participate in a group’s annual walkathon (which is also a great way to meet other activists); or when your birthday rolls around, ask family and friends to make a contribution to one of your favorite charities. During the holiday season, one way to show love is to make a financial contribution to a charity in someone’s name. To make the animal connection even more personal, adopt a rescued farm animal for a loved one and give the precious gift of time: spend the weekend together at the sanctuary visiting the new family member. If you think they are willing and capable of guardianship, adopt a homeless companion animal from a local shelter, giving a cat or dog another chance at love and life.

Donate bonds, stocks, and real estate—with most non profit organizations, the gift will be tax deductible; or make a bequest. While few people are as rich as McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc who recently left $200 million to National Public Radio, everyone’s will can include a bequest.

Amuse your friends, surprise your enemies. When Sally Baron, a 71 year-old Wisconsin woman, died in August, her death notice included the request that “Memorials in her honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush.” Baron wasn’t particularly fond of President Bush, whom she nicknamed “Whistle Ass,” and her unusual death notice has raised money for several Democratic and Independent presidential candidates—and nationally embarrassed Georgie Porgie.

Be creative with your time. If you can’t give money, donate your time and energy. One inspiring example is George Ginsberg, a commercial photographer in Springfield, New Jersey, who was known as “the penny philanthropist” for his modest but steady contributions to numerous charities. What Ginsberg lacked in financial ability, he made up for in effort. One day in 1956, for example, Ginsberg attended a B’nai B’rith meeting at a lodge in Newark. Few people were in attendance, and when Ginsberg asked about the whereabouts of the other members, he was told everyone was present. Ginsberg volunteered to sponsor a membership drive for the lodge; he mailed postcards to virtually every Jewish resident in the area, urging them to join. The lodge enjoyed such a dramatic increase in new members that a neighboring B’nai B’rith lodge enlisted Ginsberg’s help for a duplicate membership drive.

One of my goals this past summer was to always keep our bird feeder full. The task, I quickly discovered, was difficult, tiring, and somewhat expensive. The birds often consumed all of the feeder’s seeds within one or two hours. Now, I fill the bird feeder once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Without food, of course, the feeder is worthless. The same is true with many animal groups—when given our help, they can do their best work.


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