Don’t let the fine print get your goat

A bright and educated friend told me he bought a goat online. Or rather he directed Heifer International to buy a goat for an impoverished family. I told him that was a generous act. “But of course,” I said, “you didn’t actually buy a goat.”

It took some convincing to get him to read the fine print on the Heifer Website, which says that the organization pools gifts in order to make the most economical gifts to entire communities.

This is the norm for charities offering donors the ability to purchase items on others’ behalf or sponsor a child. Is this misleading? In the case of Heifer, there’s loads of info on their Website explaining how they work. And the fine print alludes to the fact that it would be expensive to tie individual donations to specific purchases. Illustrating how a goat can help a family become self-reliant and the typical costs of doing so helps donors understand how their donation can help. The goat is a mere symbol.

I don’t think my friend was disappointed to learn that he hadn’t directly purchased a goat for a family. But it leaves me with one small quibble: why not make the “fine print” just plain “print?”

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Our mission is to mobilize informed donors and accountable nonprofits for the greater good. We envision vibrant and healthy communities for all, benefiting from effective and trustworthy nonprofits that are supported by a well-informed public’s generosity.

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