I believe that giving to the less fortunate is beneficial both personally and socially. When a person demonstrates generosity by giving to a charity, their spirit is enriched in some non-material way; it is like invisible bridges are built between them and others. This is nothing to be said of the how the act of generosity helps the recipient. Generosity is a virtue that all of the world’s great religions share and is the basis of the modern taxation system, which is meant to redistribute resources to the most needy.
But is all generosity the same? Is giving to a charity that buys books for disadvantaged children as beneficial as giving to a charity that prevents children from becoming disadvantaged? What about charities that protect our environment or those that promote particular religious perspectives?
The problems of modern society is overwhelming and the charitable response is just as confusing. While I commend people to give to a cause they believe in, I also think that some things are not as high a priority as others. A blogger named “Gates” posted a bold and insightful blog that helped me develop a rationale method on prioritizing which charities I should give to.
For example, I will be excluding charitable organizations from most of my future donations based on the following criteria:
1) Charities that have high administration and fund-raising expenses. What’s the point giving to a charity if a large portion of your donation is not even reaching the people the charity is intending to service? Unfortunately, there is no clearing house for information on Management Expense Ratios for Canadian charities, but there is one called the Charity Navigator which does a good job of providing reviews on U.S. based charities. A brief review of some Canadian charties indicates that MERs run between 5%-8%.
2) Charities that have goals that are unrealistic, which puts them at the risk to becoming little more than institutions that do little good. A group like Make Poverty History possesses a laudable but unattainable goal to fix global poverty. How are they going to do what the United Nations and national governments are not already doing? I am fine with interest groups promoting their perspective, but they should not be allowed to be charities. Poverty is a political issue and not about charity.
The goals must be attainable since in my way of thinking most charities should be in the business to put itself out of business. It should only exist to meet an attainable goal and once done so, then be dissolved.
3) Organizations that partially duplicate what the taxpayer is already funding. There are a multitude of member-based disease societies such as the MS Society, MD Society, etc. whose members receive most of their medical and physical care by our taxpayer funded health system. Same thing with Literacy and Poverty organizations whose targeted populations are mostly supported through the education and welfare systems funded by taxes. Our tax dollars are already a form of charity, the biggest problem being the huge MER that comes with government run programs, but that’s content for another post. 😉
4) Charities that promote ‘civil society’ like Historical and Art societies. I would happily support an Arts Council or a Museum if I knew that the other concerns I have about our society was addressed. As long as there are people living in deplorable circumstances (the old bread vs circuses debate), my donations to these types of charities will be minimal or nil.
So who does this leave to give to? Well, this is my short list:
- Organizations that help reduce abject poverty (such as UNESCO)
- Organizations that are provide societal harm-reduction (such MADD or John Howard Society)
- Organizations that help animals and natural ecosystems (Top Environmental Organizations)
- Organizations that help people to help themselves (such as Kiva or FINCA or United Way)
If the purpose of generosity is to help fellow persons, then the giver needs to think how best to help others. While any form of generosity is good, the benefit is less if those dollars are given blindly. Hopefully, this post will prompt you think about where to place your generosity and dollars to maximum affect, since it is not possible to both be everywhere and be effective.