I start this post with a confession: I’m not fully walking the talk on this one. When it comes to charitable giving, there are some transcendant souls out there who set rare examples. I’m not one of them.
But lately I’ve been wrestling with this question: How can we best make a difference with our charitable contributions?
Given the frequent subject matter of this blog, I know there are many readers who are not in a position to contribute money to charities. But I know that others have that capacity, and I hope they’ll join me in thinking about this.
Lately I’ve been reckoning with my own giving, which has strongly favored charities that benefit those in the U.S. For a variety of reasons, I realize that I should also be contributing more to organizations and initiatives that are tackling extreme poverty around the world. I’ve been spending good chunks of time on the websites of two entities, The Life You Can Save and Giving What We Can, both of which offer powerful moral and ethical arguments that we should be donating more to reverse extreme poverty.
Moral philosopher Peter Singer’s project, The Life You Can Save, asks people to pledge 5 percent or more of their income to charities that are effectively addressing global poverty. Here’s a short description from the website:
The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We spread knowledge of what we can all do to reduce poverty and the suffering it causes. We encourage people to support highly effective aid organizations, and to inspire others by joining our community of over 16,000 people who have publicly pledged their commitment to help make the world a better place.
A British-based initiative, Giving What We Can, raises the bar higher, asking people to pledge 10 percent or more of their income to global charities fighting poverty in the world’s poorest nations. From its website:
The members of Giving What We Can each pledge to donate 10% of their income to the most effective causes. Giving more is easier than most people expect, and easier still when you’re part of a global community of givers, united by the vision of a world without poverty. Learn more about our members, the pledge to give, and what you can achieve by joining Giving What We Can.
(Many of the Giving What We Can leaders also are moral philosophers. Interesting!)
If you need to be persuaded of the worthiness of such giving, consider this: Your money can literally save lives. Again: You can save lives.
Helping “our own” first?
In the U.S., some will counter that we should help “our own” before making donations to help the poor in other countries. Certainly I believe we need to continue giving to charities that help those in need here. However, we also must keep in mind that even the poorest Americans, with the significant exception of homeless persons, have better living conditions than countless millions of others who battle dire poverty, sickness, and hunger on a daily basis.
So let’s not ignore “our own.” But let’s remember that we inhabit this planet with many others who are struggling merely to stay alive.
Put it in the will
Also, some will urge that monies should be saved and donated via one’s estate, rather than given away now. First, they say, interest can compound and increase the eventual gift. Yes, that’s true, but people are starving and dying now.
Second, some say that we shouldn’t be too quick to donate money that we may need in the event of a job loss, some other major financial setback, or retirement.
I confess to having those fears, and they trace back to much younger days growing up, when at times our family relied primarily on Mom’s meager salary as a kindergarten teacher as the primary source of income. Today I’m making a very good salary as a tenured professor, but the financial instability of higher education triggers those anxieties, and not without justification.
Nevertheless, such worries do not compare with going hungry for days or wondering whether your kid can obtain treatment for malaria. Not even close.
Many live frugally yet struggle to make it to the end of the month or to the next paycheck. This post is especially for those who don’t face such difficult financial burdens.
Yes, it’s about giving what we can.
Personally, my main 2014 financial resolution is to meet the 5 percent benchmark of The Life You Can Save. I’m hoping that by publicly saying so, I’ll both increase the likelihood of honoring my own commitment and encourage others to join me.
The photo above is an enhanced version of an original I took in Colorado in 2012.