Give a Little

I’m involved in an interesting argument over at Witty Knitter. Basically, it all started when M-H opined that people donating money to disaster relief just to win prizes were “weird.” I actually agree with her on that point, and I think most people would. You shouldn’t give to charity just because you think you might get something back. Where we differ though, is that I don’t see anything crass about a group reporting how much they’ve raised or about people who don’t have cash donating gifts for those who do. (Assuming they’re giving away things they already have and that wouldn’t be of much use to disaster victims.) I think purely anonymous philanthropy is a nice concept but human nature gets in the way. I hate to think of the struggle my sister would have raising money for cancer research if she told corporations “Sorry, for idealogical reasons we’re not going to name you or give you any positive press.” So it’s an argument that isn’t really an argument. I just maintain that there’s no point in speculating about the motives of a bunch of strangers on the Internet and writing them off as “weird” when what they’re doing doesn’t hurt anybody and, in fact, quite explicitly helps a lot of people. I dunno. I’ve just been irritated this week by all the holier-than-thou types insinuating that anyone who gives to charity is somehow defective or self-centered, and that we should all watch New Orleans regress into the Stone Age to score a political point against George Bush.

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  1. We always ask whether we can divulge major gifts (or “lead” gifts – get it?) because we know that it can inspire other donors to match or surpass that original effort. Being able to “publicize” those gifts, so to speak, also establishes our credibility, because now other donors can see that someone finds us either worthy enough or a good enough investment to support us on a higher level. It helps raise double the money, in short!

    And on the other topic, I disagree — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with incentivizing donors to give to charity. Especially in America. You have to. You can’t go marching down the streets in your birkenstocks and realistically expect to just ask, and ye shall receive! There are so few TRUE altruists out there that you’d be wasting your time, and in turn, missing an opportunity to raise more money. Many donors need recognition, they need something else to motivate them, and the unfortunate fact is that sometimes it’s just not THE CAUSE. We’d be a bad business if we didn’t at least attempt to cater to those individuals as well; they’re constituents who are just as capable of giving as the more humble philanthropists, and if you have to pander a little bit to get them on board, so be it.

    One of our largest supporters has a close and tragic connection to our disease; presumably, this is his main reason for donating thousands, year in and year out. Yet he doesn’t just write a check and disappear; he comes to the biggest event, brings all his friends and drinks and has a great time. I don’t think it’s awful; I think it’s his own way of thanking himself for the good that he’s done. He deserves it, and we’re happy to provide it.

    Anyway…I ran out of steam. There you have it.

  2. Thank so much for that, aim. Fantastic comment and you put into words a lot of things that I was thinking about but didn’t know how to say.

  3. Hi Kris- I completely side with you here- it’s crass to participate to win stuff… but it’s another thing to get recognition for a big donation. Anyway- I tagged you for a survey thingy- sorry if it’s a pain in the butt… I filled mine out during the ND vs Michigan game- both joyful and painful for me, since I was a UM undergrad, and ND law.

  4. oops- the questions are on my blog- I posted it today

  5. No, I didn’t say it was crass to publish the names of contributors – I wouldn’t generally want my name published, but that’s not my point. I said that it was weird to donate in order to win something. I think we completely agree on this point. (As I would have expected!)

    And please don’t criticise me for saying it was an ‘American’ thing – it was you who said this, not me. My original post was very short and to the point and didn’t mention nationality or names.

  6. An American thing, M-H? Nobody mentioned that here at all. Please don’t think I’m trying to make this an America vs Everybody Else thing. If I brought it up at all at your site it was only to counter statements like “the poor have to exist in the US, just to validate the lives of the nothing-to-do wealthy socialites” and “[Americans] view of the Christian virtue of charity must be different from mine”, neither of which are very fair or accurate.

    At any rate, I’m sorry that I’ve conflated your main point – about people donating just to win prizes – with that of some of your commenters, who also objected to publicizing donations. I still don’t really have a problem with either though. As Sean Penn said this week, “it doesn’t really matter” if people think he was only helping out in New Orleans for publicity or recognition. “We got a lot of people out of the water,” Penn said on CNN. “The rest is for people to talk about.” It just seems silly pointless to pass judgment on people who are DOING GOOD THINGS, things that don’t cause anybody any harm and actually might make a difference in the world.

  7. I want to point out that Kristine is different from Kris- I think MH got a little confused about that… Kristine is the visitor- Kris is the Web Goddess…

  8. It actually confuses ME a little whenever I see your name, Kristine! 🙂

  9. Just to chime in and agree with Aim: I think it’s a win-win when a large corporation can fund good causes and get some good press while helping others. While some might find it self-serving, no one loses, and the non-profit or charity wins big.

    I’ve been thinking alot lately about why more people don’t give more often (lots of people donated after the tsunami and Katrina, but many don’t donate to very needy causes regularly) and I think legitimacy is a large part of it. I volunteered for the United Way, so feel good about giving them money, and trust the Red Cross, but don’t know from many other fundraisers, so am sceptical about how they’ll spend my money. Perhaps more people need to work for (or volunteer for)these agencies, like Aim, and then they’d be more charitable in general. Lots of folks are sceptable (sp?) that their money is going to a good place. I think that most people are generous by nature, they just want to make sure that their money is really making a difference.

  10. You know what I think is weird? The whole fanfiction-for-donations thing that a lot of people on LJ were doing right after Katrina. Why people need to be induced as such to donate to help the less fortunate is beyond me. Personally, I don’t desire anything in return. I give what I can because I’m in a position to do so, not because I want a pat on the back, or fanfiction written in my name, or a prize. *shrugs* And I don’t think it’s an American thing, because Livejournal is populated by people from all countries, and lots of folks were participating. In any case, I’m American, and that’s not how I operate.

  11. I am reminded, though, of a large donation I made recently to build a public park in the town in which I reside. Because of the donation, Jay and I will have a brick with our names on it somewhere on the greenway. We didn’t do it for the brick, but we’re getting one anyway. 😉

  12. Okay, fanfiction for donation is kinda weird… but I’m not in that subculture much these days. I guess I can see it. I mean, over on TWoP they’re raising money by auctioning off TV show recaps. I guess that as long as the whole prize-giving doesn’t detract from the money the charity gets, I’m all about the crazy promos. Why not? It’s win-win.

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