By world standards, most of the people reading these comments are wealthy. So, given that we have more than most, how much should we give as Charity? And what is our giving obligation: goodwill or guilt?
Charitable Opportunities Everywhere
Perhaps I have an unusual perspective because I was born in India and grew up with beggars on the street – people in various states of distress who intruded to solicit alms. Sometimes we gave them a couple of coins, but most often we ignored them. Indeed, they were so much a part of the scenery that I really didn’t notice them until much later, when I returned from abroad. Only then did I really see the old familiar faces of beggars that I had known since boyhood. I doubt if any of them knew me, because they gave me the same blank stare that they give any prospective donor. Perhaps I was noticed a bit more because I now had the aura of a more susceptible foreigner.
When I started giving out the local equivalent of nickels, my mother warned me to limit my benevolence to the local norms – pennies. I wondered what she meant till I was overwhelmed by a persistent following, including some who had already received their alms just minutes before. They were simply testing the limits of my foreign naiveté. Evidently, word had spread via the local grapevine. When I ventured out the next day, a beggar’s brigade greeted me. Uncomfortably, I had to end up being quite rude, to escape their attention.
The situation is not different in America, where I live now. Once you give to any charity, you become a marketing target for those who somehow get to know that you are indeed a donor – sharing of information between some, I suppose. You are inundated with junk mail and telephone soliciting which you have to fight off and discard until your information eventually dwindles to the status of a bad prospect.
How much? To whom?
So, what exactly is charity? (1) Is it an obligation, or does it stem from guilt? How much should I give and to who? And, who sets the parameters: Religion? Society? Family? Relatives? Work? Country club? Should I heed the pleas of the preacher, or simply keep up with the Joneses?
Religion is always the first bastion of benevolence. Who better to set the ground rules than the links with the Almighty? You go to church to feel righteous and peer pressure takes over: if your neighbor puts some coins in the plate, why not trump that with paper money? If they have already papered the plate, no one will notice your $ 10 bill, so it may be better to put in a few $1 bills instead.
The salesman – uh, the pastor or rabbi – stresses the rationale: if you give more, you’ll receive more; if you don’t, then you are selfish and you’ll get what you deserve. To test you to the limit, you are advised to “give till it hurts”. To make it easy for you (and for the bookkeeper) the concept of “tithing” was invented – give a percentage of your earnings, and in return you will receive the maximum blessings.
Plethora of possibilities
If you don’t go to church, then secular society has a plethora of possibilities to clear your conscience or goad your guilt.
You can donate to United Way, or the Salvation Army, or “The Y” – secure in the knowledge that your giving is in good hands and indeed is tax deductible. You melt when you see the pitiful, pathetic pictures of poor orphans in some far away place and hear the pleas for your generosity to help them survive on a paltry pittance that you can easily afford.
Does charity apply to humans only? How about those poor cats and dogs in the animal shelter? Perhaps children should be first; but would a starving adult be more charity deserving than a not-so-starving child? Well, you’ve seen that advertising too.
How much of your donation actually goes to Charity?
Perhaps you should know exactly how much of your donation actually goes to those orphans after the marketing and administrative salaries have been paid and the expenses for TV advertising and sales brochures have been deducted. Ask your favorite charity for that percentage. You’ll be surprised.
You’ll find links below showing America’s worst charities and the salaries of the highest-paid executives of major charities (2) (3) and a regular updated charity navigator. (4) You’ll find similar sites on the web for wherever you live.
Most charities take care to remind you that your gift is tax deductible. (5) Does that encourage you to give more, or does it discount the value of your giving? Donating your time or giving to the homeless in the street is indeed charity – but it cannot really be documented and is not tax deductible.
Where do we begin?
The old adage – charity begins at home – is a good starting point. Does that mean just your immediate family, or should it include relatives and their extended dependents? Should you give more to the ones in need, or distribute your largesse evenly?
And where is home? Is it your own neighborhood, or the huddled homeless in the seedy part of your hometown? Should I donate to help people who are victims of all the catastrophes that are regularly on the news? Should I help the flood victims in America first because they are nearer to where I live now? Or should my first allegiance be to flood victims in India because of my origin? If I can afford it why not help both? I’m supposed to give till it hurts. So, how much should it hurt?
Music & the Arts
Some people seem to take pleasure in the recognitions they receive for their public donations to music and the Arts. Personally, I don’t see how helping to pay the salary of the cellist should be considered charity. If the ardent patrons of the arts want so much to hear the symphony, let them simply pay more for their tickets.
Anyone who is truly passionate about any charitable cause can tell you it’s not purely a selfish endeavor. But self-interest does have a hand to play, though perhaps an unconscious, instinctive one. We give because we see a need in the world, and we continue to give because filling that need fills a related need inside of us.
Cynics point out that charity brings its own rewards. The good feeling you get when you serve the needy is itself the benefit you derive. Anyone who has his or her name posted as the benefactor of the new library or hospital wing already receives the benefit of recognition. Still, it is called charity and is tax deductible in the bargain.
Charity is something within
I have come to the conclusion that charity is only charity when you give goods, services or money without personal gain, benefit or recognition of any kind. True charity is anonymous. It begins and ends within your self.
- The Meaning of Charity: http://goo.gl/nLFRpT
- America’s Worst Charities: http://goo.gl/39Za8H
- Top 25 Compensation Packages for Charity Executives: http://goo.gl/PaAdEm
- Charity Navigator: Guide to Intelligent Giving: http://goo.gl/caqPzD
- Tax benefits of giving: http://goo.gl/K9uStR
- Giving as Receiving - The True Rewards of Charity: http://goo.gl/aoNrY5
24 September, 2014