December is when every nonprofit asks for money. It makes sense – people are often scrambling to make last-minute, tax-deductible donations, and nonprofits are taking full advantage of people’s largesse and, of course, their desire to pay fewer taxes. The holidays end and what then? How do we view our year-end giving once the calendar flips over to January? Were our donations well-placed? Did we give enough? Did we vet our nonprofit recipients carefully enough?
I had pause to think about this when I was at an event in mid-January, hosted by the Pacific Coast Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I’ve been giving to the MS Society for many years. It’s something I do in memory of my mom, Ruby, whose last few decades of life were not what they should have been. I’m definitely not a huge donor, but I’m consistent.
At this event, a breakfast gathering where a UC San Diego neuroscientist revealed her latest research results, I was struck by the reality that, indeed, my small donations went to the right cause. Three women with MS joined me at my table. None of them were having an easy time dealing with MS symptoms. That said, all were receiving drugs that improved their quality of life. They were being given a fighting chance of still enjoying a meaningful life, although still compromised by this insidious disease. Two described drug trials they were part of, with some success.
Mentally, and emotionally, I contrasted what I saw and heard with my mother, who was diagnosed in the 1970s. There were no drugs in those days to help, even a little bit. In fact, it took many doctor visits for them to even decipher what her symptoms meant. Her decline was rapid, yet her life stretched out for many years as she lived with an extremely poor quality of life. Doctors just said, “There’s nothing we can do.” As a young adult, it was terribly painful watching her grow worse each year with nothing to halt or ease her symptoms.
So, my takeaway from the breakfast gathering was that progress IS being made with this disease. My donations DO matter. They still don’t know why you get MS. And they don’t know how to cure it. But, they’ve found ways to slow the decline in some cases and to reduce the severity of symptoms in other cases. Many medical research labs, funded by the National MS Society, are studying the disease and the difference for patients between the 70s, 80s and 90s and the last 20 years is striking.
The MS Society is just one of many nonprofits where donations are making a difference. And I do support other causes, but MS is certainly one that touches my heart. Sadly, today’s research can’t help my mom, but for many thousands of MS patients today, and in the future, there is hope.
When we seek a yardstick to guide us as far as where to give, I can’t think of a better one than seeing results.