Friday, August 05, 2011

What would change your mind?

There's not much good philanthropy evangelism out there. Individual charities have marketing departments, of course, but not many people who advocate philanthropy in general. By philanthropy, I mean personally significant giving to causes you think are important (not $20 here and there to random charities that send you mailings).

Giving What We Can is one attempt at this, which I think is quite well done. Bolder Giving is another, though it has rather a lot of millionaires and not a lot of ordinary people. Peter Singer's writings seem to have reached a lot of people, or at least gotten some media attention.

Here are my guesses at why people don't like to think about giving:

  • It's scary to think about what you might give up. In fact, I've found the thinking to be more painful than the actual lifestyle changes. Jeff and I have a very high quality of life on not much money. Philanthropy does not have to be a drag.

  • It can be difficult to make financial decisions once you realize your pocket money could be saving someone's life. I used to agonize over every purchase, which was not good for my mental health (and thus my ability to keep giving). Laying out a budget with money that definitely will and will not be given away has made my life much easier.

  • It can be lonely. I waited about 10 years before I heard of anyone with a giving philosophy similar to mine. The internet is helping create communities, though.
  • Talking about money is hard.  I'm afraid of being a guilt tripper, and I think other people are afraid of being guilted into something.

  • We all know people who are richer than us, and it's easy to feel deprived in comparison. This mindset does not encourage generosity. A feeling of abundance does.

  • Serious givers are often intense/kooky people. People who disagree with Peter Singer about animal rights or euthanasia may discount his writings on giving. I used to think the existential risk people were cranks, but I'm starting to take them more seriously.
So here is my question to you, dear readers: what are your qualms? Are there things that would make you think differently about giving?


ajbc said...

One hard part about giving is not knowing how much to give. As long as I am living comfortably, I know I can be giving more. Do I change my lifestyle to buy worse food for the sake of saving someone's life? Do I stop putting money into retirement? Do I give up on the dream of owning land? Do I send my potential children to college? Where do you draw the line?

Additionally, there's the problem of determining where to give, which is complicated for me by religion. My church basically requires a 10% tithe for "full membership," but even though it goes to many wonderful causes including international aid, I know that that it's not the most efficient use of the money. How does that factor in to determining how much to give? Is it selfish to put money in a less efficient place if there are other benefits to doing so?

JY said...

Thank you for posting about giving. Reading other people's thoughts on the subject reminds me to be mindful and consider what I do with my money. In the past, my main problem with giving was inertia. I just needed to get in the habit of giving. A lot of charities/aid groups have automated monthly giving plans, which works well for me because it is easy to budget (since its monthly) and requires minimal effort on my part (because it's automatic and I don't have to remember). I started with small, painless, monthly contributions, and I have been growing them over time. I find that giving makes me feel rich, because I KNOW I have more money than I need, which is all rich is really.

Julia Wise said...

AJBC - It is hard to know how much to give. My advice is to take a stab at a sum or percentage, and try that for six months or a year. After that, adjust as desired. When you start thinking of giving as a normal part of your budget, it doesn't sound that bad.

We're guessing higher education will look really different by the time our kids are 18, so we're not really sure how to plan about college.

About non-optimized giving, I think this article sums up my thoughts:

JY: Automatic donations work well, because they are pretty painless and take out the constant decision making. The only problem is when your credit card expires and you forget to set it up again - I used to see donors who had accidentally stopped giving for years. So remember to tell them if your card changes!

David said...

Here's Seth Godin (recent post! very timely) on a related subject:

I've been meaning to work out something about what I think and post a comment. But I think the factors you pointed to are pretty important.

Julia Wise said...

Thanks for the link to that post. Ideally we'd all pick quite a high amount to give and a low amount to keep, but if thinking about that makes you stressed/guilty and less likely to give, giving whatever you feel good about is much better than nothing.