Giving to Charity


(whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person before) and I recently had a discussion on Twitter about charity.  On Friday, I tweeted a link which made me feel guilty and want to give more money to charity, and then another link which made me feel guilty for feeling guilty.  So, I wondered,

Whoops. Sorry, that one was about the hawk cam.

I wondered about the effectiveness of giving to charity, and about the second article which discouraged it:

And Akhila then picked it up and said she disagreed with the whole premise of Altucher’s piece, because:

Our discussion centered on two viewpoints: Mine, that I kind of agree with Altucher because it’s impossible to monitor charity behavior and Akhila’s in that she believes in people’s inherent ability to research and choose charities correctly.

I think this discussion could have easily veered into one about the benefits of electoral college versus true democracy, but another argument that came out of it was whether it matters why people give to charity.

Being a cynical student of economics, I argued that it doesn’t matter. Whether I give money to Kiva because I want you to know that I give money to Kiva, or whether I give money because I want to help people (specifically, women in countries where entrepreneurial opportunities for women are rare,) I’ll still give, right?

However,  Akhila argued that we need to know we’re doing good in order to donate correctly and effect positive change:

I don’t have a correct answer to account for all of human nature, but I think our disagreement stems from two different viewpoints: I don’t trust people.  I think we’re inherently lazy, self-motivated, and stupid, so much so that we’ll donate to anything as long as it looks cool; i.e. Red Cross, and not examine where the money is going.  It takes forever to research charities, even with organizations like Charity Navigator and GiveWell , so how do you know whether the money you’re sending to send little girls to school in Pakistan is really going to some asshole, or is sitting, doing nothing?  How do I even know my Kiva donations are going to the right place?

The second part of it is that I believe people donate at least 50% to give themselves a huge ego boost. I know I do.  I do know people that are selfless and give their time for nothing more than to give time.  But I’m not going to pretend that giving to Kiva doesn’t give me the feel-goods, or that I gave blood in Israel solely for that purpose and not to tell people that I did it, or that I want to volunteer with dog-related causes to make them feel good. Mainly it’s because I miss petting dogs.  What I don’t know is if this perception hurts us more than it helps.

But Akhila doesn’t feel that way.  And I’m glad. Because some of us have to be  optimistic and in the business of helping people. And some of us have to be in the business of pessimism watching hawks remotely.

Edited to add, speaking of Kiva, I thought this was funny: