Friday, 8 March 2013

Charitable Giving - Altruism, Duress, or Guilt?

This is not the picture I wanted to use, but I have been wrestling with the malign spirit which inhabits my lap-top for nearly an hour and I have now admitted defeat.

Originally I had intended to once again visit the subject of giving to charities - money that is - not any other form of giving.

Having worked on my bank statement and household accounts yesterday, I found myself writing no less than eight cheques to various charities.

Now I am not an idiot, don't all shout at once, and I do know that there has to be a balance between what one would like to do, and what is possible.

Sometimes the boundaries become blurred and I have, more than once, found myself with too little money left to last the month.

I have a system, briefly this is it:  I give by direct debit to six charities every month.  These were ones on which John and I agreed and as far as I am concerned these are set in tablets of stone.

The problem which grew out of all proportion fairly recently, was that I was receiving upward of thirty appeals a month from other charities.

I devised a system whereby an appeal is put into my pending tray until my monthly cheque writing day, when I check it against my accounts sheet for the previous months.  If they have been given money in the past 3 months, the appeal  is shredded.  If not they get a cheque.

These are all charities of which I approve and whose work is well monitored and reported upon, but if a new charity, (new to me that is) sends an appeal, I now shred it instantly, since I cannot possibly add any more.

The amounts I give are not enormous but, when the system works, which it mostly does, it means that the charity will receive a cheque roughly three times a year.

In addition I give to the Disasters Emergency Fund, and two other charities on an ad hoc basis about twice a year.

Yesterday I actually sat and worked with a calculator to discover just how much was leaving my bank each month.

The result was staggering, and shocked, I wondered for the first time in my life why I do it.

As I think I have said before, I do not believe in pure altruism, I don't think it exists, there is nearly always some way in which the giver also receives.

Sometimes I think people respond to duress from others and give when they don't really want to, and I also think there is an attempt to relieve guilt by giving.

This is not cynicism, it is simply that I always look for reasons for set behaviours, as opposed to knee-jerk responses to something which appeals to our emotions in some way.

How much is habit.

How much is fear.

How much is innate generosity?

Don't ask me what my motives are, I have no idea.


  1. My parents were exactly the same as you! The more they gave, the more word seemed to get out and every day in the mailbox there was a deluge of requests from charities. One of my siblings now is in charge of my mother's finances as she is now too confused to do it (she is 94). It got to the point where she could not remember when she had last given and so she'd write another check... I think my parents were so generous because they felt they themselves had been so blessed in this life and that they had an obligation to try to alleviate the world's pain and misery -- and the only thing they had to give was money. It's not that they were wealthy, but they had more than enough. Personally, I give most to my church because they will use some of that money for their charity giving and I feel that is enough. There are a few organizations that I have a soft spot for -- The Salvation Army, for one, and Comic Relief for another. But my giving to other organizations is sporadic and limited. I expect, that you, like my parents, have the very best of motives -- you want to help...

  2. Certainly I want to help Broad, but that doesn't explain why so many.
    From the few people I've spoken to it seems that mine is a slightly over-the-top reaction to begging letters. but to me it feels normal.
    "Philanthropy philanthropy, Oh what a funny thing you be, does it begin with thee or me?"

  3. Ray, I think Broad is right that you get so many appeal letters because you are known to be a giving person and the sheer numbers can be overwhelming. My mother-in-law is like you and often gives to appeals, whereas I have a very few charities which I strongly believe in and almost all my giving is to them. Interestingly I now get very few appeals through the post, presumably because I very rarely respond to such letters and somewhere on their computers this fact is noted.

    There has to be a balance, but it can be hard to work it out and as you so cogently point out, all our giving is from a mixture of motives.

  4. What staggers me Perpetua, is the way new appeals keep appearing. All the ones I regularly give to are those I really wish to support, but I never now respond to new ones.
    I was my aunt's executor some years ago, and after her death John and I bagged upward of 300 charity appeals and took them to the tip.
    It shocked me at the time, but I can see now, just how easy it would be to add 'just one more'.
    It won't happen but I wonder what the reaction would be if I suddenly stopped the whole process. (anmd that is what it has become).

    1. I think you would go on getting the appeals at first, but the number would lessen if you steadfastly didn't respond to them. It's also possible to go onto the charity's website and ask them to take you off their mailing list and this is what I had to do with a few very persistent ones. I hate to think how much of the money we give is wasted on fruitless appeal letters. Sigh.....

  5. I dislike the tactic of being sent sticky labels, cards or raffle tickets.... in fact I have lately started throwing them in the bin. I suppose that sounds very harsh, but I don't want to get swamped. Well done you, though for being so good at giving. Every Blessing Freda from Dalamory

  6. Freda, I do exactly the same with labels and raffle tickets, I shred them while still sending a cheque if it is their turn. The huge numbers of cards (about 150 last year), I give to St. M's for their Christmas Fair, together with all the free gifts accrued over the year.
    As for the being good at giving, the jury is still out on that one. I do it but really am not sure why.
    Actually, I've just remembered that it is not entirely true that I give all the free gifts away.
    Last year one of the charities sent me a silver (coloured) angel on a chain and I kept it and wear it most days. The exception to the rule.
    Blessings to you also.