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Don’t Donate Money To Charity

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

Donation BoxThis Devil’s Advocate post will cover something that’s bound to elicit a lot of discussion – here are four reasons why you shouldn’t donate money to charity. That’s right, you read that correctly, I have four reasons why donating your hard earned money to a charity is a bad idea and chances are there is at least one reason here that you didn’t even consider. If there was ever a Devil’s Advocate post to end all Devil’s Advocate posts (don’t worry, it’s not the last one), this would probably be one of them!

Americans are one of the most charitable groups in the world, having donating $306 billion in 2007 according to the Philanthropy Journal, an increase of 3.9% over the year before. While the donation amounts in 2008, a period of economic uncertainty, are not yet known, chances are Americans will still be sending hundreds of billions to philanthropic organizations… so in the face of that, I present to you four reasons why you shouldn’t donate money to charity.

You Already Donate

Whether you know it or not, you already donate to a lot of charities. When you pay your taxes, you’re subsidizing the operations of every single non-profit organization in the United States because they don’t have to pay taxes. When organizations receive subsidies or “investments” from the government in the form of grants, you’re more directly donating to philanthropic organizations. In the case of philanthropies that support individuals based on income (homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc.), you are already supporting the individuals because your taxes go towards the welfare and food stamp system. It may be more efficient to donate directly to a local homeless shelter or local food bank, but you already donate to them and the people they help through your taxes.

Teach A Man To Fish

The old maxim of teaching a man to fish has and always will be true. “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Homeless shelters and food kitchens are wonderful if they are simply helping people get back on their feet, but far too many residents end up staying much longer than they would if the assistance weren’t so easy to come by. Withholding support to an organization trying to do good and making their lives much harder isn’t necessarily the best approach to effect this type of change, but it is an approach.

Administrative Overhead

All philanthropic organizations have administrator overhead costs to pay for. Many philanthropic organizations also have fundraising costs to pay for. When you donate your funds, a part of that goes to the administrative and fundraising costs – not the underlying cause. This is most true with your taxes, a donation you are already making! While you can check Charity Navigator to see the administrative overhead of almost any charity. The American Cancer Society spends 9.6% of its revenue on administrative expenses and another 21.8% on raising more money. Thirty cents out of every dollar you donate won’t go towards anything cancer-related.

Money Is Too Easy

It’s very easy to donate money to an organization, it’s much harder to donate your time by volunteering. When you volunteer, you have a much greater impact because you’ll probably volunteer as somewhere local. Those local organizations don’t get nearly as many monetary donations as the national organizations because they don’t spend as much on publicity! Also, many local charities, such as Habitat for Humanity, get a much larger benefit out of volunteers than they do from monetary donations. Finally, donating your time is a truly philanthropic act because you don’t get a tax deduction for your time. (The only exception to this is if you can otherwise make a boatload of cash during the time you would spend volunteering, then you probably should earn the money and donate that!)

I really struggled with this Devil’s Advocate post, probably more so than any other post, as my fellow Tweeters can attest to. In my tweeting about it, most of the responses that came back had to do with arguments against donating to a particular charity, rather than arguments against donating to charities at all! Ultimately though, I think the argument against donating to charities is pretty thin and comes down to personal preference. I don’t think you’re a bad person if you don’t donate (you may not have the means, you may not support any causes that have philanthropic supporters, etc.) just as I don’t think you’re automatically a saint for donating, it’s a personal choice that each must make on their own.

(Photo: mindfulone)

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84 Responses to “Don’t Donate Money To Charity”

  1. Armygirl says:

    I enjoyed the article. It was thought provoking. I don’t live in the US right now, but I still give to my local Salvation Army on a monthly basis; because when I was a young single mother, I received help from the Salvation Army. My kids went to their summer camp, and they delivered food to me for Thanksgiving. And…I was always a working single mother of two. I never want to take for granted what help I have received in my life. To use another quote from the Bible “it is better to give than to receive”. I’m blessed that I can continue to give. But I give locally,
    because having benefited from it, I know others in the community are benefiting too.

  2. Bob says:

    I agree with your four points and wish to offer perhaps one more. All charities, religious and otherwise, I find, choose to be “dark.” None offer organizational charts with total remuneration packages for each position disclosed. Uniformly they are NOT disclosed for all to see. Hence, “dark.” Even my beloved Wiki–and organization which I use to regularly donate and now decline–even Wiki is brilliantly dark. Wiki (see staff) goes so far as to provide a picture, a name, and a job title–none of which I need and all of which I maintain makes Wiki one more “dark” non-profit. As a would-be donor I seek nothing personal. I do not need an individual’s name. I don’t need the employee’s residence, a SSN, a picture, or any other extraneous and gratuitous absurdities. My dollars await an organization that publicly discloses it’s complete chain of command, its organizational chart, complete top-to-bottom with each position’s remuneration package, up to date and audited.

    Agreed! Don’t donate to [dark] “charities.”

  3. Exposed! says:

    The biggest issue that we haven’t yet addressed is the fact that all the churches as well as world renowned organizations such as **cough cought World Vison** convert the recipients of their aid. This has been an ongoing process and I as a 17 year old student am utterly disgusted by this process. Beyond the 4 points above the poor and naieve Africans and poverty stricken individuals of other countries are forced to adopt christianity because they NEED that aid. The christians then use these statistics to say that they are the most populous religion in the world. It disgusts me to donate to such conservatives that may be even “[darker]” than wiki.

  4. Wajdi says:

    I am looking for articles that discuss why people don’t donate or volunteer their time. Would you be able to help me and point me to one. It is important because I have to make a speeach today on the subject.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Agreed! Don’t donate to [dark] “charities.”

  6. Beauness says:

    Some charities teach a man to fish, the more you can give the better so don’t stop because you already have, your time is more valueable but that isn’t an option for everyone (children?). Administrative costs are necessary for all truly effective measures I’ve seen up to date this article seems as you said pretty thin. as anonymous said, be careful what charity you donate to (I prefer schools for girls). I couldn’t live in Africa for my fair skin and low heat tolerance, and that would be my first target for sending charity, maybe I’m brainwashed into ignoring places like Brazil but my choice of charity preventing is unavailable for physical contribution so if I work here where I grew up and send money I may still be doing more good.

  7. miranda says:

    but some state DON’T HAVE TAX like oregon and i still think donate is better than taxx

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I imagine this was a tough post to write. While I think that arguments #2 and #3 are too much of a stretch, it’s great that you’re addressing this important and thought-provoking topic.

    Regarding your point about overhead and administrative costs: Donors and volunteers absolutely need to be educated about the charities they support, but I don’t think that relying on an organization’s financial ratios is the best way.

    In fact, I intern at GreatNonprofits.org (www.greatnonprofits.org), which is a site with a different perspective on nonprofit evaluation. It’s the largest online database of user-generated reviews of nonprofits. On the site, donors can see a new dimension of the impact of the nonprofit – through the eyes of a parent whose child received tutoring, or the ex-felon who got job training, or the volunteer who helped write advocacy newsletters. These first-hand experiences help donors see the on-the-ground work of the nonprofit.

    Don’t hesitate to contact me – elizabeth@greatnonprofits.org – if you have any questions about the site, or just want to talk more!

  9. Amanda-Beth says:

    Give to people time or money which ever you can when you can. Charity orginizations are bull about 80% or more that claim non for profit pay their employees so really in end only about 30% of every dollar is going to chairity. You can easily go down street and offee to help elderly or disabled person clean their house. Or help the single parent with 3 kids say hey I will watch your kids for couple hours. Or if you see someone not having enough for groceries and you have the money pay for their groceries. This is all far more effective charity then orginizations.


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