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Writing against hosting a charity carwash

January 23, 2006
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Writing against hosting a charity carwash
Douglas Clemson

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right; let us strive on to finish the work we are in." — Abraham Lincoln.

And there we have it. Charity is a noble and philanthropic act.

To give to those less fortunate is not just a good deed, but in most religions and societies commanded of us and praised.

So, as I look at this debate of charity carwashing, I find myself, as an owner/entrepreneur, looking at the glass both half-empty and half-full.

Do I fill up my own glass or give the remainder to someone in need?

The quote above reminds me of yet another proverb, "Charity begins at home."

Let's examine why charity carwashes might not be the panacea that they appear to be.

Don't give away the farm

Many industries and corporations give graciously to charity: literary programs, food banks, medical research and educational programs to name a few. But few, if any, would give away their bread and butter and sacrifice profits for the charity that they wish to support.

While Apple might donate computers to schools and teachers, I can hardly see them giving away proprietary rights to a microchip maker that competes against them.

It's not about whether you are charitable or not, but rather if you are a responsible business owner. So as owners, as Lincoln said in those dark years of civil war; "Let us finish the work we are in."

To me that means being and staying competitive. Lasting the long haul and being around tomorrow; not giving into the pressure of poor business practices to gain a short term advantage.

We chose this profession to become successful, and owe it to ourselves to secure our future in this field.

Giving income to charity in direct competition for those funds is not the best way to secure that future.

Throwing a bone

"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry." — Jack London

I don't know why Jack London was so preoccupied with stories about dogs, but Mr. London has a point; when we are all starving, it's not a good time to give up our food.

"Charity sees the need, not the cause." — German proverb

Why do so many charities decide to have carwashes as fundraisers? Why do athletic groups, school bands and Church groups need to raise these funds?

Is there a flaw in their ability to sustain these programs without relying on charity?

Basically, this proverb points out that a funding problem within a program is a cause, not a charity. Our public school system and local government have increasingly cut budgets that support these programs, choosing not to fight the voters for increased taxes to maintain the programs.

This leaves these programs under-funded and unable to continue without charity. But again, this is not charity that they are raising money for, but funding they are raising for an unsupported activity.

Programs that have a societal value should be supported by government or private systems with either adequate taxes or contributions.

They should not rely on activities that directly compete with industry. Otherwise they become competition in the mere definition of their activity.

Ulterior motives

Looking at this in a religious, albeit possibly controversial way: Christ said, (without offense to any religion, but to quote a historical person,) "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Matthew 6:3.

I assume that many of us can agree that Christ preached charity as a pillar of his faith. Now, let's examine what he said charity is and how it relates to us as business owners.

When you give, you give freely. You never have an ulterior motive; an expectation of a benefit or an outcome that in some way reflects positively on you or your business.

To give support to a charity because of community standing is piety. To give support to a charity for advertising is profiteering. And to give support to a charity for tax deduction is not giving, but receiving.

So how should we give to charity without it being civil or social welfare?

By becoming a solid business, paying fair wages and receiving a fair salary. Then, quietly and generously, you should support those passions that you have an outside interest in.

Take a certain percent of either your personal income or business net profit to give to a charity. Hurricane relief, the American Red Cross, the SPCA or a religious organization all do fantastic work and need support.

By doing this we can be assured that there are no strings in giving as Christ explained and you have fulfilled your duty, socially or religiously.

No strings attached

Charity carwashes, while potentially an alternative to funding a myriad of social, religious and sport related activities, are not a solution to the long-term viability of those projects.

Strong, well-funded and supported organizations need not rely on charity to fill the gap if they are truly supported. To continue to throw support to these activities, while not focusing on developing our industry, only serves as neglect to our own businesses.

I have presented the con side of the charity carwash not as an uncaring business owner, but as a responsible professional. Charity is just that: charity is giving.

Marketing, jockeying for community standing and giving potential income as subsidy is not beneficial and is not charity. It is wasteful, even harmful in the long run, not just to our profession, but to the spirit of giving that charity is suppose to be in — no strings attached.

Charity carwashing is not what it appears to be. It is not a panacea, but a potential Pandora's Box.

Douglas Clemson is the owner of Ben's Car Wash, built in 2002, Zephyrhills, FL. To contact Douglas, email him at