Wednesday, January 17, 2007

charitable giving: more local?

i've been thinking a lot about charitable giving for the past few months (to learn more about random charities i was using charity navigator, which was useful). i'm still trying to think through my charitable giving goals: what matters to me? how should i best contribute to help? lately i've been thinking that i really want to help locally. i want to give locally, volunteer locally, local local local. why? well, i'm human, and it's easy for me to connect with local changes and what's going on around me, what i can see. more importantly, however, is that i believe we need to think about total wellness, and that's easiest to look at going outwards from yourself: your own wellbeing, your community's wellbeing, your society, other societies, the world...

of course, all these "wellbeings" can be prioritized. but how do you do that? someone recently said to me something along the lines of:
how can you give money locally when there are children starving around the world? when there are people with diseases that we can cure if only we have the money to pay for the inoculations?
these are important questions to consider. certainly it's not either/or.

most people where i live have shelter, food, and basic medical support. that can't be said for many people around the world.

perhaps my local push comes from a feeling, at least for me, that there's something really missing when i write my check to help inoculate children in africa. it's more than just wanting a philosophy to back my charitable agenda...

anyway, your thoughts on charitable giving are much appreciated.

below i've posted some findings from a study of young people's engagement in charitable giving done by the joseph rowntree foundation. you can find the report here.

  • Young people define 'charity' and 'giving' more widely than formal organised charitable activities such as giving money, focusing more on engagement through active involvement.See a list of related documents...
  • Charity is not seen as something only charities do; 'helping' others in the community informally is also seen as an important charitable act. Neighbourliness or something akin to citizenship is seen as a positive value, while giving time, in general, is seen as a greater effort than giving money and is often perceived as a more valuable gift.See a list of related documents...
  • Young people are themselves engaged in a variety of activities that come under a wider definition of 'charity', better defined as 'altruistic engagement': from giving goods to charity shops to buying the Big Issue, Fairtrade goods, recycling, campaigning and taking part in charity events. See a list of related documents...
  • The real level of young people's engagement with charity in the wider sense is being underestimated by traditional giving surveys and narrow approaches to measurement, which rarely include the type of activities mentioned by the young people.See a list of related documents...
  • Young people aged 16-24 are particularly likely to fall through the net of existing opportunities for engagement with charities.See a list of related documents...
  • There is a feeling among young people that the emphasis on raising money can be disempowering as they have limited funds to give and more to offer charities and voluntary organisations than money. Many feel that there are insufficient opportunities to give their time to charity, while only a few feel that there are insufficient opportunities to give their money to charity. See a list of related documents...
  • Young people want more information from charities about what is done with their money and how their donations effect change, and they believe that having more information would encourage them to give more in future. The vast majority think that they will be engaged, giving both money and time in the future.See a list of related documents...


Grant said...

A friend of mine, Holden Karnofsky, recently helped start the website (blog at Its goal is to evaluate the mission and effectiveness of charities (instead of just how much money goes directly to the cause as Charity Navigator does). For example, say you want to help control disease in Africa, what is the best way of going about that with your charitable gifts? Is it giving out condoms, providing mosquito nets, setting up joint programs with American doctors to train more African doctors, or something else? There may be a great charity that trains doctors, but if supplies are more important, then you’re money would be better spent on supplies.

Holden worked at D.E. Shaw after college and is now at Bridgewater. He was one of the brightest people that I have ever met. (I wrote with him at Swift magazine ( ) a political-social satire magazine at Harvard) He plans on leaving his job to work on this site full-time, so it is something he really cares about. Anyone at all interested, will probably find it useful (even though it rather new and not too much stuff is up yet). The blog entries are generally entertaining.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have too much stuff on local charities. I agree that it is easier to care about people around you, than people half way around the world. I hope that by giving money to people half-way around the world it will help me care more about them (and thus have more charity)!

Related to this last point, the word charity has lost a lot of its meaning by being used in too specific a sense to often. Below I have included the definition of Charity from the OED. I am no expert on reading these things, but looks like it came into English from Latin and in Latin was often used to render the Greek word agape. As the OED says, older translations of the Bible render what is now “love” in Chorithians 13 as “charity”. It is very instructive to read it this way. This is a verse that even most non-Christians will have seen or heard (say at a wedding) but you will probably have read it with love replacing charity. It is so poetic, that everyone can benefit from it. Perhaps, it is the best description of charity anywhere. After reading this passage you should never confuse charity with merely giving money to a cause. I have also included it at the bottom.

1. Christian love: a word representing caritas of the Vulgate, as a frequent rendering of in N.T. Greek. With various applications: as
a. God's love to man. (By early writers often identified with the Holy Spirit.) Obs.
b. Man's love of God and his neighbour, commanded as the fulfilling of the Law, Matt. xxii. 37, 39. Obs.
c. esp. The Christian love of our fellow-men; Christian benignity of disposition expressing itself in Christ-like conduct: one of the ‘three Christian graces’, fully described by St. Paul, 1 Cor. xiii.
d. In this sense often personified in poetic language, painting, sculpture, etc.
e. in, out of, charity: in or out of the Christian state of charity, or love and right feeling towards one's fellow Christians.

2. a. Without any specially Christian associations: Love, kindness, affection, natural affection: now esp. with some notion of generous or spontaneous goodness.
b. pl. Affections; feelings or acts of affection.

3. a. A disposition to judge leniently and hopefully of the character, aims, and destinies of others, to make allowance for their apparent faults and shortcomings; large-heartedness. (But often it amounts barely to fair-mindedness towards people disapproved of or disliked, this being appraised as a magnanimous virtue.)
b. Fairness; equity. Obs.

4. Benevolence to one's neighbours, especially to the poor; the practical beneficences in which this manifests itself. a. as a feeling or disposition; charitableness.
b. as manifested in action: spec. alms-giving. Applied also to the public provision for the relief of the poor, which has largely taken the place of the almsgiving of individuals.
c. pl. Acts or works of charity to the poor.
5. That which is given in charity; alms.

6. A bequest, foundation, institution, etc., for the benefit of others, esp. of the poor or helpless.
The term, especially under the influence of legislative enactments, such as the statute on charitable uses 43 Eliz. c. 4, and the various modern Charitable Trusts Acts, has received a very wide application; in general now including institutions, with all manner of objects, for the help of those who are unable to help themselves, maintained by settled funds or voluntary contributions; the uses and restrictions of the term are however very arbitrary, and vary entirely according to fancy or the supposed needs of the moment; chief among the institutions included are hospitals, asylums, foundations for educational purposes, and for the periodical distribution of alms.

7. A refreshment dispensed in a monastic establishment between meals; a bever. (App. only a modern rendering of med.L. charitas in sense of ‘quævis extraordinaria refectio, maxime illa quæ fiebat extra prandium et cnam in Monasterio.’ Du Cange.)

8. A popular name of the plant ‘Jacob's ladder’, Polemonium cæruleum.

9. Phrases. a. cold as charity: referring to the perfunctory, unfeeling manner in which acts of charity are often done, and public charities administered; (but cf. Matt. xxiv. 12). charity begins at home: used to express the prior claims of the ties of family, friendship, etc., to a man's consideration (cf. 1 Tim. v. 8, etc.).
b. Brother or Sister of Charity: a member of a religious organization devoted to works of charity, of which several have at various times been founded.

10. attrib. and Comb. (all referring to 4-6), ‘given or devoted to the furtherance of a charitable object’, as charity ball, bazaar, concert, land, matinée, money, sermon; ‘brought up in a charity-school or on a charitable foundation’, as charity-boy, -child, -girl; charity-bred adj.; charity-bob (see BOB n.4); charity-box, a money-box for collecting contributions to a charitable object; Charity Commission, Commissioners, a board created by the Charitable Trust Act of 1853 to control the administration of charitable trusts, with powers as to the management, re-organization, application, etc., of any of the funded charities; charity-house, a house or building devoted to a charitable object; charity walk, a sponsored walk for charity (see SPONSORED ppl. a. 2); charity walker, one who takes part in a charity walk.

Corinthians 13
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

omar said...


great comment. i'll say more later, just wanted to briefly say that i looked at your friend's blog, and it is quite interesting (and timely, as the post on it right now is about evaluating charities using the charity navigator ratio). i completely agree that the single number (what percentage of spending goes to "actual cause") is bogus, for many reasons, but the one good one is that i know how much thought and time is needed when developing strategies and evaluating outcomes, and you can't do that on a tiny, tiny amount of money, which sites that evaluate using the spending ratio seem to encourage. however, the ratio might help you dig deeper and ask questions about why the money is going to various places.

as to the passage you cite: i have actually heard parts of that a number of times, usually with the word 'love' instead of 'charity' as you say.

bea said...

you should read Peter Singer's view on charity...

it's out there though...really out there...

omar said...

actually i have read some of read peter singer's view.. though the article i read was more on how much you should donate, not exactly what you should donate to. at least the one he put in the ny times magazine. this is part of what got me thinking. you can find the article here.