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From Heroin Tragedy to Charity

My best friend, Madison, died of a heroin overdose more than three years ago. If you are interested in learning more about his story, the Washington Post ran an article about him (and the rising heroin epidemic in Northern Virginia) shortly after his death.

Madison overdosed alone in his parents’ bathroom and was found shortly after by his brother and sister. Madison was technically still alive when I arrived at the hospital, but his brain was dead and he was on life support. The brilliant doctors at the hospital kept him breathing long enough for us, and his hundred other friends, to say goodbye.

After I left the hospital with Madison’s family, I felt stripped of reality. I was in a sort of shock, and though I realized tragedy is almost a ubiquitous part of life, it felt unique to me. I felt alone in my grief, even though I was surrounded by Madison’s family, who were surely suffering more than I was. Even watching that last breath escape his lips, as his skin paled to a chalky white, it hadn’t hit me. I was feeling … incomplete. Like something still needed to be done.

Anna, Madison’s younger sister, and Nick, his older brother, came home with me, while their parents left to find solace in each other. As Anna, Nick, and I all laid around my living room in silence, I realized that I hadn’t cried yet. It was troubling me, but all I could think about was the last thing Madison’s mom had said to me through her tears before we parted ways.

“David, would you mind helping us set up the funeral arrangements? Madison wanted to be cremated, that much we know, but we want a service and a reception somewhere.”

She patted me on the shoulder, gave me a weak smile, then left.

I hated thinking of Madison’s parents having to figure out funeral finances while dealing with the unbearable burden of losing one of their children. I wanted to do something to help, and I remembered seeing a friend share a “Go Fund Me” link on Facebook to help pay for his brother’s medical bills. I figured I could do the same, raise a couple hundred, maybe a thousand dollars, and help his parents out. I let Anna and Nick in on the plan, got off the couch, and set up the Go Fund Me account for Madison, which still exists to this day. In about 20 minutes the Go Fund Me page was being shared on Facebook.

The three of us went back to the couches and turned on a movie in a vain attempt to flee from our current reality. About an hour and a half had passed before we checked on Madison’s Go Fund Me page. People had donated about $1,500. We were as happy as we could be, and as we all hugged we saw the donations continue to pour in. After three days, we had raised more than $11,000.

Receiving and Giving

About $5,000 of the money was used to pay for Madison’s funeral service and reception. None of us had a clue what to do with the rest of it. We thought about starting a foundation to help drug addicts, but in the end, we decided we wanted to donate to an organization that was already on the front lines, battling the terrible disease.

How did we choose the right organization? We searched online for local organizations, but the results were numerous, and we couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for. Then (yes, sadly it took so long) it dawned on me … I work for GuideStar. It was a “face palm” moment to say the least, but I pulled up GuideStar, typed in “Drugs,” selected my state, and began to search through every nonprofit in my region that dealt with drug addiction.

From Heroin Tragedy to Charity

After narrowing down the field using some of GuideStar’s more granular search tools (like whether or not the organization had a Seal of Transparency), we found the organization we thought would best suit our donation goals. We had clicked on a couple of different search results. We read over mission statements, a bit of the financials, but we found the organization we wanted to donate to in the “Programs + Results” section of its GuideStar Nonprofit Profile. This section gave us specific information on who this organization provided service to, what services it provided, its goals, as well as its key strategies for reaching its goals. We figured our donation would have the most impact through an organization that had a direct, visible plan of action.” After conferring with Madison’s parents, we donated the $6,000 to the nonprofit we found through GuideStar.

On the Sunday after the funeral, when everything was over, I sat and cried for my friend.

Now What?

Madison is gone, but heroin continues to exact a toll on the people around me. My brother has been a heroin addict for five years. As of this post, he has been clean for two years. Madison’s sister has also been an addict for five years. As of this post, she has been clean for more than three years. They both currently work helping young teen addicts live clean and healthy lives.

I am the director of marketing for GuideStar, but my passion for the organization goes well beyond my job. GuideStar is an educational charity resource that enabled me to make an intelligent giving decision in my friend’s memory. My goal is to not only to market GuideStar but to encourage intelligent charitable giving across the country.

According to Network for Good, these are the top reasons people donate:

  1. Someone I know asked me to give, and I wanted to help them
  2. I felt emotionally moved by someone’s story
  3. I want to feel I’m not powerless in the face of need and can help (this is especially true during disasters)
  4. I want to feel I’m changing someone’s life
  5. I feel a sense of closeness to a community or group
  6. I want to memorialize someone (who is struggling or died of a disease, for example)
  7. I was raised to give to charity—it’s tradition in my family
  8. I want to be “hip,” and supporting this charity (i.e., wearing a yellow wrist band) is in style
  9. It makes me feel connected to other people and builds my social network
  10. I want to have a good image for myself/my company
  11. I want to leave a legacy that perpetuates me, my ideals or my cause
  12. I feel fortunate and want to give something back to others
  13. I give for religious reasons—my faith teaches me to help others
  14. I want to be seen as a leader/role model

Whatever your reason for donating to the causes you care about, I recommend you use GuideStar. Not only to find the right organization but so you can also have visibility into the impact your hard-earned money will make.

The giving season is right around the corner. If you are going to give this year, why not use GuideStar? (Don’t forget to check out our resources for donors.)

Better data. Better decisions. Better world.

From Heroin Tragedy to CharityDavid Mundy is GuideStar's director of marketing. He has a tatoo in memory of Madison on his left arm, and his daughter's middle name is "Madison" in honor of his late friend.

Topics: Giving Wisely Charitable Giving opioid crisis drug heroin intelligent giving