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Strategy to Avoid Confusion when Giving to Charity

Caroline Jaine's picture

I have been a life long fund-raiser, but recently I have been a confused giver.  This short article may help me (and others) see through the mists of great causes towards building a personal giving strategy.
Back in the day (that will be the 1970s), charities had “flag days” – once a year I would stand outside Gateway Supermarket on the Gloucester Road in Bristol and wave a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) tin under the noses of passersby, and they would exchange a few coins for a paper flag on a pin.  If we were lucky, we got a one pound note folded into the slot. Together with two friends, our efforts extended to carol singing, putting on shows and even a fete in our back garden.  We were thanked for our charitable efforts by the Lord Mayor of Bristol with tea and cake at City Hall on College Green (known then as The Council House). Life was simple: even though we were children, we did what we could for the one charity we cared about most.
Fast forward a few decades and I have helped to raise funds for tsunami survivors, villagers to ride bicycles in Africa, the conflict-effected of Syria, journalists at war, children’s homes in Sri Lanka, air ambulances, homeless charities, hospitals, flood victims in Pakistan, and widows in Iraq (to name a few).  These charities have all had a special place in my heart for one reason or another.

The Complex World of 'Giving'

Shamiela Mir's picture

Have you ever been conflicted by the word charity or the idea of charity? I have. I cannot pinpoint exactly why, but I’ve always had a philosophical dilemma about what it is, and how it should be. I was recently prompted to think about it again when I read a few articles and listened to a segment on National Public Radio that talked about the different ways in which people and institutions ‘give’ and whether or not these are good ideas. 

A New York Times article, Is It Nuts to Give to the Poor Without Strings Attached talked about an organization called GiveDirectly which gives money directly to poor people without any preconditions. The idea is that people know best what they need, and providing money with strings attached is patronizing and less effective. GiveDirectly hired independent researchers to conduct a randomized controlled trial to see if this is an effective way of giving. Results are due later this year and they will be made public.

Giving the Poor What They Need, Not Just What We Have

David Evans's picture
Recently, this blog discussed a study on cinematic representations of development, highlighting notable films such as Slumdog Millionaire and City of God. Over the weekend, I was reminded that even forgettable films can underline key development lessons. In The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a professional magician engages in international charity work. He explains, “I go to places where children have neither food nor clean water, and I give them magic,” as he passes out magic kits in an unidentified low-income rural community. A journalist asks, “Do you also give them food and clean water?” “Well, no. I’m a magician. I bring magic.” Later, his endeavor failed, the magician returns to the United States and meets an old friend:

“What about the poor?”
“Turns out they didn’t want magic: They just wanted food and clean water.”
“Ugh. Fools!”
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone