Thursday, June 07, 2007

Troubles With Giving To Charity

Charity and donating is always an interesting topic when it comes to personal finance. Some people donate time, others money. And regardless of what people give away, the reasons for doing so are almost as varied as the donations themselves.

Recently I heard a report that discussed how local charities are being rated and there is a <a href="http://www.charitynavigator.org/">nice website</a> that you can go to to learn more about your favorite charities and determine how they are actually using your money. If you are anything like me, you want to make sure that your money is being used efficiently.

But getting to more pressing and current issues, the G8 summit is on. And one of the major issues being discussed is aid to Africa. I find this particularly interesting because people are actually working on providing more and more aid to Africa - often to combat the issue of poor medical care. But despite all the attention that Africa gets, especially now with the crisis in darfur, there is little opposition. But today, an article describing how <a href=" http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363663,00.html">Aid to Africa hurts Africans</a>, I was amazed. Check out that article, especially the map for a different perspective.

This week, I discussed an issue that has been top of mind for me lately when it comes to charity. The issue is largely due to the fact that it was brought up in a book I'm currently reading: <i>Atlas Shrugged</i> by Ayn Rand. The idea is this: charity only matters (or has value in terms of virtue) when you give to someone that doesn't deserve it.

The book isn't clear as to whether or not the author believes this. The concept is brought up in a conversation in the book, but it really got me thinking. And I just don't believe that to be the case. A recent conversation with a co-worker really cemented the concept for me. In the United States, there are certainly people who are in bad circumstances beyond their control. However, there are also many, many people who choose to be poor, have a low quality of life etc. They do it out of complacency, out of boredom, out of laziness, or perhaps because their parents lived that way and they never really spent any time thinking about how to live differently. I can speak to this because I have people in my family who are in both situations. It is an interesting observation to make when it comes to people who 'need' help.

So this question remains: When should you donate? Is one dollar of a donation the same no matter who it goes to? And what determines the "virtue" of donating? Is it the state of the recipient and how he/she got to be in need? Or, is it your particular state that matters more?




3 comments:

Curtis said...

You've got Ayn Rand's philosophy exactly backwards. Charity, when given to further your values, is proper and moral. It is immoral when duty motivates it.

EasyChange said...

Curtis, thanks for visiting my blog. With regard to Ayn Rand's philosophy, I cannot even begin to claim any understanding of it, although I find what I've read of her book to be fascinating.

All I was trying to get across in my post was that this concept was brought up in her book. There was another character which refutes the idea. To me, at this point in the book, it is not clear for certain which way the author feels about it.

I've sometimes written stories and/or papers where the ideas were not my own, but rather a fiction made up to make a point etc. So, to me, it is possible that Ayn Rand shares none of the ideas that are held by her characters. (Although I must admit this seems unlikely.)

I hope to continue to delve into these ideas though and keep reading the book, because it is quite interesting.

Kevin said...

OK, I'll add a plug for one of my favorite charities: ACCION International.

It's a nice choice (IMHO) for personal finance junkies. First, it's about offering economic development possibilities to help people help themselves, and, second, it is I highly leveraged form of "social investing" that can return benefits in the very long term much like compound interest.

Very often they just make microloans to get people started. Sometimes its just enough to buy a single tool. Sometimes it lets someone buy one set of stock for the shop wholesale rather than retail. It improves their situation AND the situation for their whole area. The nice thing is, they only needed a little help -- and then they do the hard work to make it happen. You can see the personal finance junkie appeal...

I make very small but regular contributions through paycheck deductions. It's just a little, but it's nice to know that the returns get magnified as the years go by.