Charity as Self-pleasure

Christmas giving

We are rapidly approaching the holiday season – you know, the time of year we’re supposed to put our greed aside and focus on generosity (which seems drives more furious spending and consumption that greed could ever hope to do).

But I want to target a particular kind of generosity that’s special to this time of year: charitable giving. It’s still early in the season, but the calls for donations from variously worthy charities are already ramping up. It appears market downturns hit the charitable sector twice: first by convincing donors that they can’t spare any of their income and secondly by reducing the value of the charity’s own investments.

And so the corporate world come to the rescue – with a bake sale. Yup, muffins in the lunch room, a couple bucks to a good cause. Don’t worry about breaking the diet: it’s for the needy. And at the end of these tingle-inspiring activities, an organization of, say, 200 professional people sends off a cheque for, let’s say, $5,000. Smiles all around.

But before we break into rampant caroling and hand-holding, let’s be serious. The charitable events blitz is clearly just as much about our own fulfillment as it is about any real generosity. Because if we really wanted to help the unfortunate, there’s better ways of doing it than shipping off a random cheque to a charity. The most effective way to give is to sign yourself up to a plan and give a set amount each and every month, year in and year out. It’s simple too: you can get it automatically deducted from your paycheques or charged to your credit card.

So instead of a $5,000 cheque at Christmastime, let’s say each of the 200 employees signed up to give $5 every month (certainly much easier than organizing a bake sale). By the end of the year, total donations would be $12,000, all in easy installments. And because the chosen charity knows the money’s coming like clockwork throughout the year, they can use it far more effectively than a lump sum in December. Not only that, but think of how much time would be saved in the office by not having everyone reading mass emails about every piddling raffle draw. Efficiencies abound.

But it’ll never happen. And why? People just don’t get the warm fuzzies from efficiency (unless you’re an engineer, of course).

It’s the giving part the equation that matters most to us, and if there’s no specific giving event, where’s the sense of fulfillment? The heartwarming payback? The whole process is less about helping people and more about emotional masturbation.

Let’s put this in business terms: If you’re a charity, you’d best keep supporting those cake walks, bingo games and marathons; it’s what your customer wants. But if you’re an effective, results-driven person with a clear interest in supporting a more just and stable society within which to live, sacrifice your yearly emotional reward and sign yourself up to a giving plan.