Thursday, July 10, 2008

Advice on Charity

I found an interesting article by Sudhir Venkatesh on charity in the New York Times. An excerpt:

I told the three people who came to me for advice that, in my opinion, prospective donors had two traits working against them.

First, they confused charity with commerce: that is, they uncritically applied the language of outcome-oriented investment to efforts to change human behavior in social settings. Humans, alas, don’t operate neatly according to market logic, though incentives can shift behavior.

Second, donors seem reluctant to talk about their own self interest. Instead of admitting their personal desires, they speak of selfless charity. Of course, donors can do whatever they want with their money, but this attitude doesn’t help them grow.


Jules said...

Well well VH...
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. You just gave us enough to make us think! ouch

As for myself, I think I have a healthy perspective on charity. I am not partial to donating to any fund that claims to help fight disease or feed children without doing the DD.

I prefer to help people one on one. The kicker for me is I know going in that I am not investing in them. I am not trying to change their life or their behavior.

I honestly do it for myself. I like the way it makes me feel to share something with someone less fortunate than I am (even if it is due to their own bad choices).

I use to look at the homeless on street corners with the signs
Will work for food...
as being scam artist and crooks.

Heck now I just roll down my window and hand em a few dollars. I realize they may use it for drugs or drinking. They may also buy something to eat. It doesn't matter to me.

They aren't out robbing and stealing. They are asking and we can say no. I choose to give. Could my money be better utilized elsewhere? Sure

At this time in my life I'm tired of being outraged. I'm ready for compassion. Too lazy to change the world.

VH said...

Hey Jules,

The article doesn’t address one on one charity or mentoring. I honestly think that you have an ideal approach because results are easily verifiable and it’s far easier to parse your time to share social values as well as influence financial behavior. The one on one approach is best.

The article points out a very important aspect of charity, and in some ways social welfare, that is seldom addressed; namely that selfless charity or social welfare programs without the right incentives are doomed to fall far short of their stated goals—Incentives always matter. Poverty is not just a “matter of resource deficiencies,” as the article states and as liberal politicians have famously posited.

Thanks for reading the article and for your great comment.

Jules said...

I totally missed that! Ha
I agree one hundred percent.

Erica said...

I like the point you made about incentives - I think it's somewhat naive for people to think that charity is a selfless gesture. It's as much about the incentive of the donor as it is about the person receiving the donation (and that incentive may be as simple as the good feeling it produces).

At the most basic level, all of us act out of a broad sense of self-interest. I agree that is important to provide an incentive in order for social welfare programs to be successful.