Sitting in a group of 35 women, the topic came up of people with signs saying, “Hungry. Homeless. Please Help.” The women were split as to their responses. We discovered that part of the disagreement lay in the interpretation of the word response. For some, response immediately meant money. I would not give money, therefore I would not respond. For others, we found that response was an emotional response: a smile, a word of encouragement, even a hug.
So, should you respond to a person asking for help? Yes, the answer is yes almost all of the time unless it would cause you imminent danger. Because, as mentioned above, responding is not the same thing as giving money or even the same thing as helping the person. But all people deserve to be treated with respect, decency, and dignity. (Think of the boycott scene in Cry, the Beloved Country. If you haven’t seen it, rent it.) I carry apples or little cards of encouragement that I can give and if nothing else, I look people in the eye and smile.
Now, if you ask me, should you give money to a person asking for help, my answer is no, almost all the time no, unless you do not care to ever see that money again, do not care how the money is spent, and you know for sure you are not enabling a bad habit. I realized this when a friend of mine became addicted to drugs. He lost his job and his family, but he didn’t quit using because different family members or friends would always bail him out. I chose to donate money to the homeless shelter in town and to the rehab centers instead of giving money directly to him. That way, when he was ready for help, help would hopefully be available. I still responded to him with compassion but not with money.
Giving money to organizations is different. My advice is to check their annual report. If their administration cost is below 20%, then the organization seems to be using the appropriate amount of donations for the actual mission, while utilizing the appropriate amount for staffing and fundraising. Giving takes an element of faith, but it should not have to be blind faith. Transparency of an organization is a key element in whether I choose to give. Secondly, look at the fruit, are the people who are affected by the organization happy with the organization? If there are tangible, positive results, then that is the secondary key for me.