The Politics of Altruism

It has come to my attention due to some comments of various caring people I know that much like economics in general, there are two major theories of philanthropy at work in our society. Neither of these two styles is wrong, they just approach our societies problems from a different angle. And, much like any other cause with differing methodologies, they are often pitted against each other.

Aid To The PoorThe first method that many of us are familiar with is the direct approach. With this we go out and help build a home for Habitat For Humanity, we donate blood to the Red Cross, or we send canned food to the local food bank. With each of these there is a relatively short road from the donor to recipient. Even in situations like the Red Cross or Goodwill where there may be an administrative level of isolation, there is still a direct connection between the organization we are giving to and the recipients of that donation. Maybe we should call this “Main Street Philanthropy”.

In the second method, there is a more indirect approach. Here we have practices as varied as educating people about problems in other areas of the world to holding benefits to raise money for charities. There isn’t anything at all wrong with this methodology, but there is a bit of distance put between the donor and the recipient. In addition, due to that distance and often infrastructure overhead, there is a certain signal loss before the end is achieved. We can call this “Trickle Down Philanthropy.”

An example of what I am talking about is this. If I have $100 to give, I could go to the grocery, buy $100 worth of food and give that out at the food bank. In this instance, 100% of my donation reaches the end recipients. Conversely, if I took that $100 and sent it to any number of well known charities, part of it would go to processing fees. Part of the donation would also go to pay for office staff, rent perhaps, and maybe even transportation. In the end, it is possible that only $50 of my donation would actually reach the recipient at the end.

And if instead I spent that $100 to give a few lecture or classes on the plight of the impoverished and starving, then it is also conceivable that absolutely none of my money would reach those in need. It is possible that all that money I had to offer was simply washed away.

This would seem like a clear choice to make until we realize that when the Trickle Down Philanthropy method works, it can actually amplify our donation. If that class I spent a $100 to teach was paying attention, didn’t fall asleep, and heeded my message, it is possible that each of the 25 people in attendance reached into their purse or wallet and made a $100 donation to the food bank. And they may also take what they have learned, spread the lesson, and triggered more donations. That amplification of effort is the magic of the Trickle Down theory.

So, here we have two methods of donation – one direct and one indirect. As I said before, neither is write or wrong. Certain people feel drawn to the direct satisfaction of the Main Street method and others have the vision and planning for the Trickle Down method. The truth is, each one needs the other to survive. Without feet on the street doing the work, the Trickle Down method is just so much posturing and conjecture. And without individuals doing the background education, fundraising, and paper work, those people doing the work on the street would have no funds, supporters, or growth. The key is finding where you fit in the picture and applying yourself there. And realizing that just because someone uses a different method, that doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.

Review: The Hole In The Gospel

The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World is not so much about a hole in the gospel or the Bible as it is about a hole in the way people live their lives. People today are caught up in the trappings and appearances of being good. They worry about what other people are doing and what modern entertainment might be doing to the morality of our youth. But what these people aren’t doing is letting their lives serve as their example.

hole_in_the_gospelRichard Stearns was a man who seemingly had it all. He was a successful businessman, community leader and family man. He had the big house, the Jaguar, and the country club membership. But just at the time he was at the peak of his career, he was called upon to do something more. Something much harder. He had to face the real evil in the world – he had to face the hunger, need, and want of the forgotten.

Too many of us would rather concentrate on our lives, write the occasional check to charity, and forget about the real calling of all moral people – Christian or otherwise. What Stearns calls our attention to in this book is that we are all called upon to lift up each other. We do not succeed in making the world a better place by memorizing verses, patting ourselves on the backs, or isolating ourselves from problems. It is only by putting our lives, not just our money, where our mouths are that we can perform the duties that we were put on this earth to perform.

To fill the hole in the gospel, we must fill the hole in our hearts and in our world. We must go out and make the world a better place. This is the message that has often been missing and the message that Stearns delivers powerfully through this book. Whether you are a Christian, member of another religion, or a member of no religion, this book is important and moving. The hole exists for us all, no matter what gospel we follow, and it is our duty and privilege to work on filling in that hole.

Note: The publisher gave me a copy of this book for the purpose of. There were no strings attached, and that gratis review copy in no way swayed my opinions towards this work.

Their common welfare was my business!

It is getting to be the holiday season. I have to admit, this is my favorite time of year. I love the weather, I love the mood, and I love the food. (Especially pumpkin pancakes and muffins, but that is a different post.) But, I am also a bit melancholy during all the celebrations. Remember in A Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Present pulls aside his gown to reveal the two horrifying children? That is me.

Ghost of Christmas PresentI have always identified with The Ghost of Christmas Present. If I have one true career goal in life, it is to be him. From the size to the dress to the mannerism, he is who I want to be. But just as he hides the two children symbolizing Want and Ignorance, I hold these concerns within my heart as I go through the season.

The one I am worrying about today, and many of us are worrying about due to the recent financial crisis, is Want. While I and my friends may cut back because money is a bit tight, there exists true poverty in this world. While I worry about paying over $3.00 for a gallon of gas, there are people with no shoes to walk. While you worry about not being able to go to Starbucks every morning, there are children who go days with no meals or clean water. Why I worry about my children’s college and field trips and Christmas presents, there are parent out there wonder which of their children to let die because they can’t feed or take care of them both.

Remember this from the interchange between Scrooge and Jacob Marley:
Ebenezer: But it was only that you were an honest man of business!
Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!

It is those thoughts that travel with me, and should travel with you, during this season and the rest of the year. We are deluding ourselves if we think there can ever be world peace or stability while there is still so much poverty in the world. And can, or should, any of us truly have inner peace and stability while no that those two children sheltered by the Ghost of Christmas Present have not been attended to?

Food for words

This is a very cool site where you can improve your vocabulary at the same time you help with world hunger by earning rice for the poor. I can’t say it any better, so I will just quote the FreeRice site:

About FreeRice

FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site, Poverty.com.

FreeRice has two goals:

  1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
  2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on this site.

Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your vocabulary can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide. Thank you.