A short time ago there was a family who lost a child to tragic circumstances. I won’t give identifying information, since I don’t want to say anything to throw this particular family under the bus- and also because the question I have is more theoretical in nature and not specific to these people.

After their child’s death this family set up one of those popular fundraising pages, presumably to help defray costs such as loss of work for the parents, and funeral expenses. Tens of thousands of dollars poured in, as is often the case when other people feel sympathy (or empathy) and want to show support for someone in a tragic time. And then the family announced that they would be donating the money that was raised to a local charity.

That sort of threw me sideways, not only because the family had not said upfront that they were collecting for charity, but because, frankly, if I am going to support a charity I would like to choose which one. It wasn’t even like the child died of cancer (let’s say) and the family made a donation to the American Cancer Society in the child’s memory. This was a situation where I imagine the parents knew their financial situation up front (you kind of know if you can afford a funeral or not) and then chose to set up this fundraising page. Then they took the money- let’s say the child had been hit by a bus (this isn’t what happened)- and donated it to, let’s say a local art museum.

Whether art (this is not where they donated to) is great or worthwhile is immaterial. The question is, should I have a right to decide where my limited charity dollars go- or when I give money am I giving my tacit agreement that I am entrusting the person or organization to use those dollars as they see fit?

If I donate to the local Humane Society and they use my money to print fliers rather than to directly keep animals alive has my money done any less good? What if they use my donation to throw a fundraiser or to buy a new building or pay salaries? Should I expect to always have absolute control over donations, and if not at what point should my control begin and end? If I give money to a poor person and they go out to a restaurant to eat instead of paying their electric bill, have they been an irresponsible steward of my kindness, or do they have a right to manage their money however they want- just like any other adult- and once the money leaves my hand and lands in theirs it becomes their money to do with what they see fit?

I think what got me about the fundraiser case is that I felt like they got the money under false pretenses, but they never actually spelled out how the money would be spent- just said what happened to their child and people assumed they needed money for expenses related to that.

So my question is, what are your thoughts on how that played out? Does it hit you the same way it hit me, or am I way off here?