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2019 May 20

Why charitable giving

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:32
In my post Thinking about charity, I provided a number of links to articles my son had sent me for thinking about charity and philanthropy.  I promised my readers that I would “write future blog posts as I work my way through the list.”  Because of my heavy grading load this quarter (and more fatigue than usual, for unknown reasons), I have not had much time to read or think about those posts.  I’ll probably get to them mid-June or in early July, once the grading is done for the quarter and I have a 6-month break from grading.

I have done some thinking about charitable giving (mainly during my morning bike commute, which is long enough for random musings on all sorts of things) without the benefit of reading the articles.

My first conclusion is that before I decide how much to give to charity and who to give it to, I need to get clear in my own head why I’m giving, so that the action will further the goals.  I tried to list mentally various reasons that people might have for charitable giving, to see which ones resonated with me.  Here are a few reasons I came up with:
  • feeling good about oneself.  Giving altruistically with no return makes one feel noble and virtuous.
  • giving back or paying forward. Acknowledging that one has been given much by others and reciprocating makes for a fair balance.
  • virtue signaling. Letting others know that one is a good person (or faking it, to hide being not such a good person) seems to be a bit too manipulative, but serving as a good example to others is not a bad thing.
  • making the world a better place. Fixing everything wrong in the world is impossible, but progress can be made in small steps.
  • participating in a community. Joining a group dedicated to making some improvements can provide a circle of similarly minded people who are good to have as friends and associates.
  • reducing the money given to the government or to heirs.  Giving money away to charity can reduce the amount paid in taxes while living or the amount left to others when one dies.
  • religious or social obligation.  Require charitable giving as a tenet of a religion is common, though this requirement has often been corrupted into con games to enrich the leaders of the religion at the expense of the followers.

There are undoubtedly many other possible reasons for charitable giving.

I was brought up to believe that good people are charitable, so feeling good about myself requires charitable giving.  I do not feel further obligation to those organizations that supported me when I was younger—most of them have already received more from me than they provided—but I do feel an obligation to provide for others some of what was provided for me.  That is, “paying forward” makes more sense to me than “giving back”.

Virtue signaling is not a big deal for me—I don’t feel any need to trumpet my contributions.  But I do believe in setting an example, so I don’t feel obliged to keep my donations secret either.  If my modest contributions can encourage those wealthier than me to give more, then I don’t mind my name appearing on donor lists.  Being an example does not require boasting—I’ve been quietly advocating for bicycle transportation for decades by relying on my bicycle for transportation, rather than getting a driver’s license.  Some people have been inspired by this example to try the car-free life themselves, or at least to try bike commuting occasionally.

Making the world a better place seems to me to be the main point of philanthropy—but this broad goal is so vague that it does not provide a lot of guidance on where to give.  The tiny amounts of money I have to give cannot make much difference to the world as a whole—so should I concentrate on improving a small part of the world (like the local community), look for giving that may have a large effect in future (giving to research, for example), or having maximal effect right now.  Are political changes more or less important than direct services to those in current need?

I’m not much motivated by tax consequences, nor by religious or social obligations.

The two reasons for giving that resonate with me right now are feeling myself to be a good person and making the world a better place.  The main thing I feel I need to think about is in what ways I can effectively make the world (or some small part of it) better.

Readers, what reasons for charitable giving have I missed? What motivates you to give?

2019 April 13

Thinking about charity

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:39
As I enter what university-development people optimistically call the “wealth-distributing years”, I’ve been thinking about increasing the amount I give to charity.  Currently, the amount I give is modest (about 2.5% of gross household income), but I’ve determined that I now have more than enough retirement savings and income, and my son is finished with college, so I can up my giving substantially, without much risk of running out of money in my lifetime.
My wife and I will be discussing who we want to give to and at what level over the summer (when we time to think about something other than work).  I mentioned my intention to up my level of giving to charity to my son,  and we had a discussion about the philosophy of charity. He suggested a long reading list that has shaped his own approach to charity (he plans to be more generous than me, initially giving 10% of his gross income to charity).
Here is what my son sent me:
Here are some of the essays that shaped my views on charity and philosophy. I don’t expect you to fully agree with them (I certainly don’t), but most of the arguments that I was making are derived from these essays. If you’re only going to read a few, they are organized in roughly decreasing order of importance.
A good FAQ about giving, specifically giving 10% of income:
About political activism and what it means to be a good person:
About animal welfare and local giving:
About existential risk:
About political giving:
About classifying good and bad:
About spreading donations over multiple charities:
Anecdotes about the weirder aspects of the movement:
And, finally, some feel-good news:
I don’t have time right now to read everything here—certainly not and think about it carefully, which is what I need to do—so I’m putting the list up on my blog so that I can find it again easily.  I’ve not started on the reading yet.
I expect to write future blog posts as I work my way through the list.  I suspect that I’ll find things that I agree with, things that sound good but I’m not convinced by, and things I disagree with.  I’ll probably be asking readers for help thinking about the things I’m not convinced by or that I disagree with.

2015 November 27


Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:26
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I get inundated with requests to donate money to worthy causes—most of my hardcopy mail consists of such appeals.  Some I recycle unopened, some I open and glance over before recycling, and a very few I respond to.  I’ve started making some rules for myself about which ones I respond to:

  • Ones that are based just on emotional appeals with pictures of the supposed beneficiaries: recycle.
  • Ones that send me letters frequently (more than twice a year): recycle unopened.
  • Ones that tell me when I last donated and how much: seriously consider donating the same amount or more again, as long as it has been at least 10 months since the last donation.
  • Donations to politicians: recycle unopened.
  • Ones that I’ve looked up on various charity-watch websites and determined to be scams (or at least very inefficient charities): recycle unopened.
  • Year-end appeals: recycle.  (I prefer to make my donations in the spring or summer—trying to guilt-trip people who may have winter depression or holiday stress strikes me as too cynical a ploy.)

There are a few exceptions to these guidelines:

  • Newsletters from organizations that I have signed up for newsletters from are welcome (Southern Poverty Law Center, Jewel Theatre, Museum of Art and History, Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, … )
  • Notices of special events from organizations that I donate to don’t count against the “frequent nagger” penalty, but end-of-year donation requests and “matching-fund” donation requests most certainly do.
  • I do give to political campaigns occasionally (which is how I got on the “sucker” lists for political donations), but I do it on my own timing and never in response to mailings. The ones asking by mail for me to donate are rarely for politicians I would want to support, even though they may belong to the same political party as people I have supported. If someone is taking money from billionaires, then they don’t need my money and aren’t going to listen to my voice—they’ve already been bought, and I’m not about to throw my money away supporting yet another voice for the billionaires.

My biggest donations are done by payroll reduction, split between United Way, Planned Parenthood, and Second Harvest Food Bank.  My next biggest donation is to Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which is going to need a lot this year in order to build a new performance space, now that UCSC has refused to let them continue to use the Festival Glen (a very short-sighted decision on UCSC’s part, in my opinion, as the community goodwill and press coverage were worth a lot, not even mentioning the rent they collected).  After this year, I may be splitting my theater donations up more (I didn’t donate to Jewel Theatre or West Performing Arts this year, but probably will next year).

I give token amounts or membership dues to a number of charitable organizations.  From most of them, what I’d like is a monthly newsletter by e-mail (so I can see what they are doing) and an annual reminder that it is time to renew (with the date of the last donation).  Hardcopy newsletters are ok, but e-mail generally wastes less of the donated money.

I’ve started dropping from my list any that send several donation requests a year, hoping to double dip by taking advantage of donor forgetfulness.  Generally I start by missing a year—if they send me a single letter saying when I last donated and asking if I missed donating to them, then I generally renew.  If they start flooding my mailbox with generic pleas for money, I drop them.

This year, I’m thinking of giving to two organizations that have done particularly good appeals—ones that stood out from the pile of trash that usually comes in the mail:

The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library, whom we usually join every year, have started a "New Year's Eve Gala" for introverts—the idea is you stay home and read a book.

The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library, whom we usually join every year, have started a “New Year’s Eve Gala” for introverts—the idea is you stay home and read a book.

I've not donated to UNICEF for decades, I think, but the idea of buying yourself off a donor mailing list is appealing (the first time—if other charities start doing it, it'll be recycle-unopened status for them).

I’ve not donated to UNICEF for decades, I think, but the idea of buying yourself off a donor mailing list is appealing (the first time—if other charities start doing it, it’ll be recycle-unopened status for them).

I think I’ll give some extra money to Friends of the Library, and a one-time donation to UNICEF, just to reward them for having more imaginative campaigns that stood out against the relentless give-me-your-money-or-the-baby-dies guilt-tripping of most charitable organizations.

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