How Do You Turn Down Supporting a Charity?

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You’re a great person with a big heart, but that doesn’t mean you’re willing and able to contribute to every charitable cause that comes your way. Of course, it’s not always easy to decline donation requests, which can be frustrating.

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Jodi RR. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, said much of turning down a request to support a charitable cause depends on who is asking and how they go about it.

“When someone posts on social media soliciting for a cause, if you support the cause — or the person — you can donate,” she said. “If you want to pass, you can, quite literally, do nothing. Just scroll on by.”

There’s also no obligation to donate if you’re not close with the person soliciting contributions. Instead, she recommended offering polite words of encouragement, without providing financial support.

“So a high schooler from two streets over rings your bell asking for money for new uniforms,” Smith said. “If you do not want to contribute, you simply say ‘No thank you, but I hope your team has a great season.'”

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Things can feel a bit trickier when someone in your social circle asks you to donate to a cause you don’t wish to support.

“It is up to you to simply decline or decide if you want to share why you do not support that cause,” she said. “Remember, no explanation is needed or required.”

When you decide not to donate to a cause, Smith said you have nothing to feel guilty about.

“Your financial health and your charitable giving are your own private affairs,” she said. “If others are actively pressuring you, that says so much more about them than it does about your generosity. A vague ‘I am sorry, not now,’ is all you need to utter.”

Even if the person asking for a donation is very close to you, Smith said you can still decline guilt-free.

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“If you have any guidelines for your giving and you want to share these you may,” she said. “But again, it is not required.”

Emilie Dulles, an etiquette expert and owner of Dulles Designs, a custom stationery company, agreed that handling charitable giving can be tricky.

“Charitable donations and giving back to our communities, alma matters and charitable causes can be a daunting and difficult social pickle and landscape to navigate these days,” she said. “Especially given how public any such evidence of giving back can become online or via social gossip.”

Declining to contribute to a charitable cause should be pretty cut and dry, but Dulles said it isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

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“Choosing one charity over another can strain friendships, create social divisions and in some cases make us feel worse — which is sadly often by design,” she said. “As charitable causes become more expertly staffed, more aggressive in their tactics and more technology-driven, ‘Thank you, but no thank you,’ is often not enough in terms of proper etiquette.”

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If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you can’t simply turn down a request — but still have no plans to donate — Dulles said there is a series of three etiquette steps and progressive strategies to consider. She said these all center on being honest, direct and polite.

“The first etiquette strategy is to establish a standard written policy and verbally practiced charitable donation response — in other words, your polite counter-response to their elevator pitch,” she said. “The second more gentle “Thank you, but no thank you,’ to unwanted charitable requests can be explained in terms of privacy and identity reasons.”

For example, she said you might explain you prefer to keep your charitable contributions anonymous, so you only donate to organizations you’ve properly vetted.

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“The third way is to politely explain that you and your family are simply already overcommitted to a favorite charity, alma mater or cause — which is usually and truthfully the case,” Dulles said.

If the person continues to pressure you for a donation, she said to congratulate their passion for their charity and reiterate your commitment to your own philanthropic causes.

When put in this position, keep in mind, there’s no shortage of great causes out there. You can’t donate to them all, so don’t feel guilty about choosing a few closest to your heart and sticking with them.

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Last updated: May 24, 2021

About the Author

Laura Woods is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She specializes in a variety of topics, including marketing, personal finance, entertainment and lifestyle. Her work has been featured on dozens of sites, including HuffPost, CNBC, Business Insider, Nasdaq, MSN, Yahoo, Fortune, Inc., Entrepreneur and POPSUGAR. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Robert Morris University.

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