Charitable Questions -

Charitable Questions


I received a phone call a few days ago as I was getting ready to go to work. Like a lot of calls I get this time of year, it was a woman calling from a charity. I can’t remember what it was – childhood leukemia maybe – but as she was in the midst of telling me about their poster child for this year’s campaign, I cut her off. I said look, you’re wasting your breath, I won’t be giving. “Not even a small donation?” she asked. Nope, I said, rushing to get off the phone. As I was hanging up, the cliche making me cringe even before I’d formed the sentence, I said “I have another charity I give to.”

Which is true enough. Actually I have two charities I donate to, in monthly installments charged automatically to my credit card. It isn’t a huge amount though, and I could easily afford to give more, either to the chosen two, or even to one of the charities that comes a-ringing at Christmas time.

The amount I give is, roughly, about 0.75% of my before-tax income. Which is to say, Not Much. But in many ways, I’m a typical Canadian. According to the Fraser Institute’s latest study comparing generosity in Canada and the US, 24.0 percent of Canadians give to charity each year, and we give, on aggregate, 0.73 percent of our personal income.

The figures vary considerably by province. Manitobans are the biggest givers on both scores (27.3/1.02) followed by Saskatchewan (25.7/0.86) and Ontario (25.7/0.84). Quebecers (21.9/0.33) give the least.

Like most of what it publishes, the Fraser Institute is interested here in making Canada look bad compared to the US, so what analysis there is in the study consists mainly of pointing out how poor our showing is compared to Americans. And it’s true, we are bad givers compared to Americans, though there are a lot of complications, caveats and other factors at work in making cross-border comparisons (here’s a not-bad quick pass at some of the issues.)

But back to me.

In theory, I’d like to give more to charity, and I could probably double my donation level without it making much of an impact on my finances. Heck, to pay for it all I’d have to do is stop side-swiping the wall in the parking garage twice a year. So why don’t I? Why was I in such a rush to just get this woman off the phone, as if she was just another telemarketer bugging me in the privacy of my own home?

A big part of the reason is that I’m not part of a church or similar community of giving, so there’s no external pressure. Another is that I’m not rich, so I don’t get into these virtuous cycles of one-upmanship where rich people outbid one another to see who can give the most to a hospital or opera hall.

But apart from laziness, probably the biggest reason I don’t give much is classic free riderism. I don’t really see the marginal benefit from my donations. The organizations I give to will keep doing what they do without me, and I don’t pretend that what I give helps them do what they do much better than they already do. And so I give enough to maintain a certain level of inner credibility (so I’m not ashamed) but I don’t give enough to consider myself a giving sort of guy (so I’m not proud).

Here, then, are some questions for the audience. Do you give? If so, why? Is it to a charity that is close to you in some way, or is it a more general, United Way-style of giving? Are there some forms of giving that give more immediate sense of reward or accomplishment (i.e. which are more obviously effective) and which therefore incline you to give more? Do you spread your giving out, or focus it? Do you give throughout the year, or on special occasions such as Christmas?

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Charitable Questions

  1. Let me be the first to take a crack at this.

    Do you give? If so, why? Yes because there are certain things I want done – like a cure for cancer, like the construction and maintenance of women's shelters – that needs money. It is not something I can do but I can give some money to someone who can.

    Is it to a charity that is close to you in some way, or is it a more general, United Way-style of giving? Targetted. Even with my UW giving, I check the box for specific targetting.

    Are there some forms of giving that give more immediate sense of reward or accomplishment (i.e. which are more obviously effective) and which therefore incline you to give more? I don't do it for the immediate reward. I do it so I can brag about it much later. Kidding.

    Do you spread your giving out, or focus it? Focus.

    Do you give throughout the year, or on special occasions such as Christmas? Throughout the year – both event focused (Terry Fox Run, UW campaign) and automatic monthly withdrawals.

  2. I make monthly donations (automatic, charged to my credit card) to five organizations: two political, two human rights, one environmental, and then respond (or not) to other appeals in an ad hoc way. There's a spread along a spectrum of international, national, local and very local.

    I do it because it's not possible for me to participate directly in all the efforts I care about, so providing funding support for those who are doing so is a way to help. I know I've appreciated responses when I've been part of the active group and involved in fundraising. Maybe that's what makes me listen to the end of the caller's script or stop and talk to people asking for money on the street.

    Anyway, I choose carefully the organizations I commit to, based on my concerns, my perceptions of their effectiveness (and my definition of what is effective), as well as the proportions of their funding going to their program, as opposed to administration and management. And then I stay with them over the long haul so they can depend on me.

    I do it in solidarity with the work being done, out of a sense of responsibility, not for reward or accomplishment. Although I'm not conventionally religious or identify with any particular faith, I like the custom of tithing. So I aim at about 10% of my annual income.

  3. Do you give? Yes

    If so, why? Because fundamentally I believe I have a duty to help those less fortunate than me and choose to express my gratitude for my blessings by what I have by sharing with others. We are so focused sometimes on what we don't have, we forget that, especially as a woman, being born Canadian is like winning the lottery. We have equal rights, healthcare, the right to education. Things we take for granted too easily.

    Is it to a charity that is close to you in some way, or is it a more general, United Way-style of giving?
    I donate 10% of my gross earnings to charity and it is split … some to my church, some to a foster child in Rwanda through World Vision, some to my local food bank (where I know the food stays in my neighbourhood), some to medical charities for diseases/hospitals that have affected/cared for my family, to Kiva (specifically with women entrepreneurs), some with Habitat for Humanity, and for clean water with Living Water International. I don't tend to respond to phone or mail pitches from charities I don't regularly give to, unless it is an in memoriam donation.

    Are there some forms of giving that give more immediate sense of reward or accomplishment (i.e. which are more obviously effective) and which therefore incline you to give more? Not really. I try to give equally all year and split my giving half locally and half with organizations working with women and children in the developing world.

    Do you spread your giving out, or focus it? I guess fairly focused, about 10 organizations

    Do you give throughout the year, or on special occasions such as Christmas?
    All year, sometimes for birthdays, for in memoriams. At Christmas I support one local and one foreign charity each year in the name of all my clients and send e-cards, spending the money I'd use to mail cards on donations instead. And personally, I use Christmas to catch up on the 10% if I am behind.

  4. Yes. Tax deductions and in support of specific causes. Almost always to charities close to us, very rarely to general charities. Not particularly. It's mostly focussed with a little bit of spread. We tend to give throughout the year to the charities we support the most, then top up extra come the end of the year and tax deadlines, often spreading it around to other causes we've found worthwhile and that haven't called us. Mail us and you may get a donation. Phone us and you won't..

  5. I also try to give around 10% of my income. We are so unbelievably fortunate to have been born in Canada, and in my case to healthy parents who made a good life for me and gave me every chance. Less than 1% of the world has had my good fortune, and I want to acknowledge my responsibility to give something back.

    To be honest, I could give time instead, but there's not much of it left after my other priorities. Giving money buys off my guilt about that too to a certain extent.

    I give monthly to charities that try to address poverty and human rights at home and abroad (United Way, Unicef, Amnesty, Stephen Lewis Foundation), to my alma mater (for student bursaries), and to my political party (federally and provincially). I also give to the Snowsuit Fund at the end of the year, and made a special contribution to Cornerstone House in Ottawa this year (the women's shelter that the Ottawa Senators watched burn down and laughed at the woman who came into the restaurant they were dining at to warn them). There are plenty of corporate sponsors and fundraisers for boutique causes, so I avoid those. I also give on the street when I have some change, but in any event always say hello.

    Given that I've spent a lot of time fundraising in the past, I do know that every bit helps.

    I think you were very honest to discuss your feelings about this process. I resent being asked over the phone or at the door for money, but I've had to do the same thing myself. When you give a lot of money, you're a natural target for other fundraisers, and it becomes hard to justify why this one and not that one. Now that you mention it, this might be why I make sure I distribute my contributions to cover off the major items.

    I also support a progressive tax system to pay for publicly run services, but realize there will always be gaps that require us to pitch in.

    Anyways, there's your answer. Thanks for asking. And thanks for your contributions to the causes that matter to you.

  6. Oh, and there is one other factor I neglected to mention: co-workers and family and friends. Regardless of the charity, there is a "you scratch my charities back, I'll scratch your charities back" thing at work.

  7. We donate about 6% of our annual household income to charities of various sorts. I think that lurking nearby the sociological and psychological questions you've posed (Do you give? To whom? Why?) are the philosophical questions, "Should we give resources away? If so, how much?" The response one gives to those questions will reflect whatever model, view, or framework within one makes normative ethical assessments. I think that the answer to my first question (Should we give resources away?) is: yes (reasons soon to follow). My answer to the second question (If so, how much?) is: enough so that I can't afford to purchase everything I could and would like to, given my current income. I think it's better for me to deny myself of some things that I could have were I to keep all my resources–better, because so doing cultivates certain virtues (or at least works to thwart the vice of selfishness).

    So the good that comes from giving is twofold–I get the benefit that arises from a certain kind of self-denial, and the recipient (provided its a worthy cause that contributes to general flourishing, etc.) receives a genuine benefit as well.

  8. Oh, and to answer your other question, I keep the United Way donation general so others can determine the priorities and send my money where no-one else wants to but it's needed.

    It does tick me off that the United Way campaigns forces us to go through that wretched canvassing and form-filling-out process every single year. They should give people an option to just set up an on-going contribution. If you miss the canvasser one year, it's a big production to make sure you don't miss your chance to sign up again.

  9. I'm a poor grad student so I give nothing, but were I wealthier I would probably still give nothing. I guess if I won the lottery or came into money that I felt was undeserved (the result of luck) I might feel guilty enough to donate. Charity to me often seems ineffective or superficial. Many organizations put a very low percentage of funds received into good works. Others are stupid, like the Children's Wish Foundation (I'm really aiming to be popular here). When we look at successful cases of development internationally – China, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. aid plays a very small part, and humanitarian type aid even less. Similarly at home, good economic times do a lot more to help the poor than any cheque I could write. It is by working hard, paying our taxes, by investing, and by spending money in the economy that we can most help those in need.

    (obviously there are some basket cases – like the mentally disabled. Our tax dollars go to organizations that are supposed to help them out. I also have no problem with giving food to homeless people and have helped out at a soup kitchen).

    • While you make some good points, I don't feel like you are aware of how many charities exist in Canada and what their scope is. Charity doesn't always mean giving money to the poor or sick (etc). There are charities that exist to protect things that our beautiful tax dollars do not. The environment is a great example. Canada-wide, and certainly in Ontario, there is an epidemic of government not enforcing their environmental laws. There are some charities that exist to try and bring meaning and force to these laws to protect the rights of citizens to have access to the environmental resources and to protect these resources for future generations.

      Good economic times don't help the poor. There are still the same number of homeless people on the streets of Toronto (or any city for that matter) despite how much money you are spending at the mall.

      Perhaps you should check out some of the Canadian charities to see if they are working to support one of your passions. As a grad student, you must be passionate about your studies.

  10. Donations at random. Locally focused. (Food bank, sports and activities for youth, animal shelters.) Always in cash and never taking a receipt. Just a person pet peeve is donations being asked for in return of a tax credit. ( An extension of a pet peeve of tax credits existing at all.)
    A donation is best given anonymously.

  11. Thank you for a thought-provoking post. My giving pretty much mirrors yours; it is general, goes through UW and is not targeted. I also do some participatory giving through activities purposely designed to raise funds and awareness at the same time. Finally, I find that our family responds most readily to sudden urgent needs brought about by a calamity of some sort where an identifiable individual or family or group in our community or in a community to which we feel a direct tie comes about. It is this latter form that gives me the most satisfaction. The rest, as you put it, is free riding, assuage-my-guilt giving.

  12. Do I donate to charties? Yes. I'm a low income person and my donations are small, maybe I should try to give more but it is difficult. I choose organizations that I know will put the funds to good use – Doctors without Borders, The Mennonite Relief Fund, the Presbyterian church I'm a member of., and other charities.

    I think charitable donations should get more of a tax break;(perhaps similar to the political contribution tax break) although my donations do not give me any tax advantage because my income is too low to need to claim them.

    I loathe telephone solicitations and since I have call display (a major frill for me), I seldom answer such calls. I give sporadically, when I have any money left over, after necessary bills are paid.

    I believe Canadians expect the government to take care of those 'most in need of help.' However, given the current regime, we should not rely on that outcome.

  13. "Do you give? If so, why? Is it to a charity that is close to you in some way, or is it a more general, United Way-style of giving?"

    I donate on a monthly basis to two charities that are trying to solve health problems, both of which occur in my extended family, and one to a local charity that helps poor and homeless people. I am not rich, I don't give an awful lot, so I also volunteer at one local place.

    One thing I checked before I started donating was how much money, percentage wise, is spent on admin because many charities spend an awful lot on salaries and hiring people to collect more money while others keep admin costs to minimum and majority of funds go to solving whatever problem they are dedicated to.

    I am not a religious person particularly but I believe it is our duty to help others less well off than ourselves. One of the reasons why I hate government is that people use it as excuse to not help others. Many people think government will take care of it and can't be bothered to help themselves. I believe in 'little platoons' and their effectiveness, compared to gov't efforts, and so I like to walk the talk because it is the right thing to do.

  14. We give to United Way through monthly donations, and we give a yearly donation to the Stephen Lewis foundation. I don't keep track, but there's many sporadic donations we give to various neighbourhood causes and to our kids' school (though the school 'donations' are often purchasing items through fundraisers, so I guess that doesn't fully count). We give a fair bit to the Food Bank throughout the year too. It probably all amounts to about 1% of household income. Our budget is fairly close to the wire, and we've got three young kids, so that's about our maximum comfort level these days.

    I don't know if volunteering counts, but my wife and I both fairly active in the neighbourhood association, and very active with our school parents' council (which undertakes many projects to enhance the school). This year, I've begun volunteering for a program called Strong Start in the school: helping young kids who are lagging in their reading abilities. All told, my wife and I probably volunteer about 25-30 hours per month.

  15. Everyone,

    Just want to say thanks for the exceedingly thoughtful replies to this. It's nice to see some new (pseudo)names chiming in. You've already all given me lots to think about.

    • Yeah, it just doesn't get any more thoughtful than "Everybody hates you" as rebuttal. If a blogger can be judged by the readership he attracts…

      • Actually, you were the one who started off claiming that large swaths of the population hate you. If you're looking for a rebuttal, I'd argue that it's not – as you suggest – because of your gender or skin colour.

        • For a third time, do you have an on-topic comment to make, SeanStalker, or are you going to stalk me around the comment section hurling insults? I'm the only person to offer anything that can conceivably be considered extremely thoughtful in this thread, everyone else is all "I give to charity, aren't I a swell guy?" banality.

          I see I'm not the only free thinker you're hassling in this thread.

          Thinking for yourself rather than being a herd animal can be scary at first, but it is ultimately rewarding. You should try it sometime. In any case, I accept your admission of defeat in this debate, you're clearly out of your intellectual depth.

          • Somebody needs a hug.

          • No one should ever give hugs to people who need them. Guess why.

          • LOL!

  16. My wife's illness taught me the value of health related charities that I had never fully appreciated before and I have responded with larger donations than I had ever given while I was still employed. Charities such as the Canadian Cancer Society do amazing work to help those who are dealing with cancer and I have tremendus respect for them. Ironically I find I have more money to give now that I am retired since I find I need less money to live than I thought before.

    • "My wife's illness taught me the value of health related charities that I had never fully appreciated before and I have responded with larger donations than I had ever given while I was still employed."

      Heart disease has also claimed a few loved ones in my life. I've put the Institut de Cardiologie de Montreal in my will for what they did for my loved ones.

  17. A few of my friends run each year to fight certain diseases (usually cancer) and I give them some. i buy a ticket in the cancer society lottery each year, although that might not count because it doesn't get me a deduction and I could win a house!

    And once a year on my weekly trip to the supermarket I buy enough food to fill one of the mid-size donation barrels behind the registers.

  18. I give an un-targeted yearly donation to the United Way because I make decent money and I think it's the sort of thing people in my position ought to do. I intermittently give to organizations fighting diseases like cancer, both because my family has a history of it and because friends or family are often raising funds for it and I want to support them. And I give to Alzheimer's because Terry Pratchett suffers from it, which gives it an immediacy and personal impact for me, and also because the idea of getting Alzheimer's terrifies me, more so than any other disease I can think of. So let's call it a mixture of global and local social obligation with a bit of fear thrown in for good measure.

    I don't give to anyone who phones me. I have given to people who have shown up on my doorstep, but I'm not likely to do so in general. I can think of at least one charity that I don't give to anymore specifically because of their obnoxious pestering afterwards. I much prefer to give proactively and give more often to charities that I donate to proactively. I believe this is so because, if someone shows up and asks me, then even if I give them something I feel at least a little like I was hassled into doing it, rather than doing it because it's a good thing to do. The latter leaves me with a better feeling about the whole thing and encourages me to make a habit of it.

    • I started a reply earlier but didn't post it as I thought some might take it the wrong way. I donate yearly to our local foodbank and to others that canvass at the house. Before I retired I was told by our office canvasser that I gave the most to United Way. I was surprised that she would even reveal that to me. And, I was doubly surprised as I was in the 'median' wage earner in my office. I always give a yearly donation to our local Food Bank and drop off groceries as well. We do give small amounts to various charities. If it were just up to me I'd donate more. But, I live with a husband who is in the work force and is not as benevolent as I when it comes to charitable/political donations.

  19. As for me, I do make donations throughout the year, but probably not what you're thinking. I donate blood every couple of months. It only takes an hour to 90 minutes of my time, and I know that my donation can't be turned into a bonus for the CEO, or wasted on needless expenditures. And, I know that my donation is very likely going to be used, and that it will directly impact (in a positive way) the people I am trying to help.

    I also make this type of donation, because Canadian Blood Services, for the most part, leaves me alone, and doesn't pester me, like a lot of charities out there. But, for me, the main reason that I donate is that my wife was hospitalized a couple of years ago with a very serious condition, and required a large number of blood products. She still cannot donate, and so, I'm "paying" the donors back with my own donations.

    • First, thank you for doing what you do.

      Some years ago, my father was near death and needed extensive abdominal surgery while stationed in Malaysia. In all, he required fifteen units of blood. The practice there is that families and friends are always expected to donate whatever blood the patient draws from the system. It was just myself and my mom there, but his coworkers and their friends were all used to the system and within a week or so after the surgery we'd "repayed".

      I'll never forget my birthday that year – sitting in a chair giving blood while my father's survival was highly doubtful (he did pull through in the end!). What was nice about the practice was that it gave us something concrete to do in the face of general powerlessness.

      Anyway, thanks again – your story just pushed this memory of mine back to the surface.

    • I too used to donate when I was in my early 20's but most of the time I was refused because I was anemic. Now I can no longer donate either blood or my organs . I'm just about to celebrate my 6th Xmas after having been given 6+ mos to live. I'm I'm not religious at all tho many prayed for me, My greatest gift this Christmas is my latest news from my Oncologist – I'll probably be around for another couple of years . I'm her 'poster patient'. Best wishes to you and your wife YAR and to all those who are facing difficulty in their lives .

  20. This all has me thinking about forager (hunter-gather) societies, and their economic pattern sometimes called generalized reciprocity. Everybody would have shared everything they had, without expectation of direct return (i.e., just because I give Potter some of the animal I killed, I don't expect him to directly return the favour – but I know others will share with me as they are able to down the road). It strongly underpinned the web of kinship that held such societies together, but some anthropologists have noted that it served as something of an insurance policy (sort of a 'goodwill' store that could see individuals or groups through hard times.)

  21. Assuming all charitable giving is equal ignores the reality that some charities exist to comfort the comfortable.

    • Feel better?

  22. I give zero to the United Way because I have the conceit of preferring to give directly to those few organizations I know, trust, and in three cases, already volunteer for myself. I figure I am around four or five percent of total income. The amount is significant, but the tax credit ends up being significant, too.

    A phone call to my home has never, not once, released a penny from my greedy clutches, whether for a charity or a marketer. My best method to get them to shove off is "Sounds interesting, I'd like to think about it, why don't you mail me some more information?" Their response to that speaks volumes — usually the desperation to get something out of me before we hang up just supports my suspicion that the caller is in it for a substantial cut of the action. Pass.

    Non tax creditable contributions: if a kid comes to the door, I end up buying the raffle ticket or Guide cookies or Scout fertilizer, or I end up tossing a non-perishable into the box. Kids doing whatever-a-thons get about five or ten bucks each. With total admiration for our veterans I think I end buying one of the most overpriced poppies every year. My sister gets our family to fill a couple of Samaritan's Purse shoe boxes every year.

    And those unmeasurable non-creditable contributions, and substantial volunteer time, add up. I suppose that means unmeasurable for governments and think-tanks, too, but it still matters.

  23. I give under 2% of gross income, over half of that in automatic monthly donations to Oxfam Canada. I give a smallish amount to the United Way through payroll deductions, and somewhat more to the Salvation Army and local food bank every Christmas. I also tend to respond to charity appeals in the wake of disasters like the big tsunami a few years back. I don't normally give much if anything to universities, cultural institutions, or political parties or organizations. My philosophy, I guess, is to give to organizations that provide basic help to poor people, locally and internationally. Obviously I'm not particularly generous, but I wouldn't want to cut down on the amount I give.

    • Just to be complete I should add that I also participate every year in the Arthritis Society's fundraising campaign, as a volunteer. I don't think of that as being the same kind of thing as financial giving, for some reason.

  24. One of my resolutions for the New Year will be to donate the most important thing charities need; people's time.

    I don't have much money to give, but can find some time.

    • "I don't have much money to give, but can find some time."

      In my experience, many orgs are as much, if not more, in need of people than money.

      • You're exactly right. Money doesn't actually do the things that need doing.

    • When I was in my early 20's I volunteered at the Mtl. Shriner's hospital but became very frustrated and gave up after a year. ;-( Prior to retiring I looked into doing volunteer work but decided against it as I had to make a commitment to be at a particular place on a given day regarles of weather conditions, etc. I'm really not comfortable driving in heavy snow conditions so I couldn't make the commitment.

  25. Well that was one of the more honest pieces I've read from a Canadian journalist in some time. Shows character.

    When you donate to a charity you create a job for a radical leftist, since the money largely goes to pay their salaries. The leftist, in turn, now has even more incentive to demand more taxation and more spending by governments. Why on earth would I as a conservative donate to an organization staffed by radical left wing haters? I say starve the beast and make them get private sector jobs, which don't exist thanks to their decades of tax n' spend policies which destroy the economy, and maybe then they will learn the value of fiscal conservatism.

    Here in Ottawa the street canvassers – inevitably your dreadlocked left wing radicals – for Greenpeace and such make ten bucks an hour, and I doubt they pull in more than $15-20 an hour, a perfect example of how most of your "charity" donation doesn't even make it to the charity but rather into the bong of some kid who hates me because I am an "old white man" who is ruining the planet and is responsible for genocides, etc, etc.

    Starve the beast. Don't donate to charity. One more thing: in a harmonious, homogeneous society, charity and altruism make sense. In a fragmented, diverse, divided society, as Canada unquestionably is today (even Michael Adams admits this in his latest statistical work), it does not make sense because large swaths of the population hate me and other Canadians because of our skin colour, our gender, and our orientation. I'm not a Christian and not bound by the suicidal directive to love my enemies and I certainly won't give them a dime.

    • Be sure to give your dog Max a pet for me.

    • i was wrong – the guy saying abortion patients get anasethesia so they won't remember their evil deeds WASN'T the dumbest quote of the week. Just under the wire, guy!

      Everyone was being nice and we were focusing on good things until you showed up.

      • Exactly, you were all spewing banal Barney the Dino buttheadery before I showed up. Exactly. Then you all showed your true colours: I'm not sure how "You're stupid and everybody hates you" qualifies as being "nice".

        This raises another issue: the social pressure Potter alludes to seems to be more of an incentive to give than, you know, actually believing that giving is a good thing. People give because they want to be seen as good people, not that they really believe in what they are doing or that they're even good people to begin with.

        And another thing: I have seen the face of poverty in Canada is largely white and overwhelmingly male; the face of poverty industry workers, overwhelmingly left wing, is largely female and increasingly nonwhite, two cohorts not exactly known for their goodwill towards men and whites.

        That's a problem in that you've got a group that is politically hostile to men and whites charged with caring for the most vulnerable of men and whites. Whaddaya think is gonna happen? A lot of men are unemployed due to gender quotas in the workplace, it being a zero sum game, and a lot of the female workers in the poverty industry due to their support of anti-male discrimination, are actually the cause of these men's suffering.

    • It isn't your skin colour, gender or orientation that makes large swaths of the population hate you.

  26. You're just going to have to accept the consequences of identity politics. It fragments and divides a society, making the whole idea of blind charity somewhat unpalatable and illogical. Blame the practitioners of identity politics, not me.

    Additionally, we live in a welfare state, one featuring a 40% tax and spend rate (source: OECD); I already gave, big time, at the office, and for you to label an individual as heavily taxed as I am a Grinch shows a lack of gratitude that makes me even less likely to donate to charity. The government has usurped the role of charity from individuals and I wouldn't dare encroach on their jurisdiction :-)

    I repeat: blind charity is illogical in a fragmented, divided society based on identity politics. See Carleton University's ShineramaGate for exhibit A; if they can refuse to fund a charity because it disproportionately benefits white males then I see no reason why I as a white male should donate to charities which benefit other demographic cohorts, cohorts that are savagely hostile to my cohort. I'll help friends and family instead.

    • Would you feel better if I expressed savage hostility to you, as a fellow white male?

      • Grownups talking grownup stuff here Sean; beat it.

        • Is that to say I can't book you for a children's party?

    • Phil, it's the holiday season, dude… Try not to snarl so much.

    • Good, so we all agree that my arguments are sound? I'm not seeing any refutation here kids, justa buncha angry shut-ins screaming insults and acting like children. Is my argument really that powerful? Hmph, I should comment here more often, looks like you could use my guidance.

      • No, I don't agree. Seems to me your 'arguments' are actually defensive self-justification. I actually feel sorry for you.

      • Donate charitably or don't, buddy. I thought it was reasonable brave of you to step into a conversation where everyone was talking about what they do to help others less fortunate than themselves and say you don't.
        As long as you're allowing your delusions of grandeur to let you believe that just about everyone either hates you or harbours angry feelings toward you, however, then there are some problems to be found in your initial assumptions that render your arguments unsound. Better luck next time.

      • Your claptrap is ridiculous, uninformed and more than a little racist and sexist. You're so pathetic we're chortling at your expense rather than bothering to engage you like a respectable person.

    • It is easier to deride and demonize those who try to make the world a better place, no matter how small their effort, than to contribute to the better of the human condition.

      I thank you for teaching this lesson to so many. I hope you have a happy holidays.

  27. Ouch.

  28. I don't notice that anyone here has called you a Grinch. Defensive much?

    • Max is the name of the Grinch's dog. That isn't to say that he doesn't come across as defensive, and more than a little paranoid and angry (as though his heart was three sizes too small).

      • Well, maybe he just needed attention. So us charitable types gave him some.

      • (as though his heart was three sizes too small)

        Ah, but just wait till next Friday morning, when all the Who's down in Whoville, the tall and the small…

  29. Phil… Your stuff is brilliant, simply brilliant. You should be the star of a new TV show… guaranteed to be a smash hit.

  30. I think a lot of people paralyze themselves into not giving through the rationalizations you explained in the original post. A good cure is to get involved, even one time, with an organization that does work you believe in. When you see the way people are actually helped, the "marginal benefit" rationalization slips away. You realize you can't help everybody, but even your small donation can help somebody. As long as you believe that helping an individual in certain circumstances is worthwhile, then you can forget about whether you're saving the world and know you can make a difference all the same.

    Then the question is, under what circumstances do you believe people "should" be helped? Fortunately, there are organizations for every cause, so however stringent your criteria, there are opportunities to give.

    Which actually brings us to the poster who claimed that conservatives shouldn't give: the arguments used there are really smoke and mirrors, far from honesty. His reasons for NOT giving are laughably far from applying to the world of charity in general; only to the posters obvious bugaboos. Obviously if he were being honest, he would say that he doesn't believe he should be responsible for helping others.

    • It does seem like a lot of so-called 'conservative' arguments are actually justifications for selfishness.

      • Please don't confuse one poster's use of this costume with a general trend. I think most conservatives would be very happy to donate more to charities of their choosing and less of the government's.

        • Which ones I wonder?

          • I'm not a conservative, but know many and would never question their community-mindedness or willingness to give or help based on their political leanings. If I could generalize at all, in my experience they tend to be very participatory and targeted in what they support. They open their wallets and their schedules.

            The kind of "conservative" Phil Wright claims to be would not be recognized as such by my conservative friends.

  31. I give financially, but my most material donation is in the form of time and has been since I was a teenager. It makes me feel good. Really good. But, I won't waste my time. Some charities will have you do that and, having fallen victim, simply don't abide it any longer.

    My donations are always to a charity that I am close to – in the sense that the cause matters to me in some way and that I can see that they do a good job (not only good work, but that they are efficient).

  32. Great comment – and from the other postings, you've touched a nerve. Charitable giving is very personal – we give for different reasons (moral obligation, noblese oblige, tax advantages, social profile), and we give to different causes across all sectors and around the world. I wish the Fraser Institute would also publish how Canada's giving compares internationally – we are the 3rd most generous in the world as a proportion of GDP – something we should be proud of.

    I wish more Canadians felt as confident as you in saying no to giving. This is something we are not comfortable doing. For the most part we give indiscriminantly to almost anyone who asks us for money, and we definately do not ask for information.

    I am fortunate – I see the analysis on over 100 charities a year and seeing the numbers, how money is spent, and what it actually achieves, I wish Canadians would start asking some tough questions before giving blindly. Canadians give $8.2 billion a year – with this level of giving, the charitable landscape has significantly changed with slick, professional fundraising machines. Check out the audited financial statements of these charities – they don't need donations, they fundraise because they can, they already have millions of dollars in cash and investment accounts.

    I am also fortunate because off the beaten track Charity Intelligence has found extraordinary charities with top results. We have tracked the impact of donations to these charities and are awed by what relatively small amounts of donations can achieve. This experience has turned my giving from spray and pray, utter frustration and cynicism to seeing the great potential donations can achieve on the frontlines, tackling some of Canada's biggest problems.

    One parting word – ask anyone who asks you for a donation for their audited financial statements – quid pro quo – you will be amazed at how many charities never ask you again.

    • I feel sorry for you and your are an angry person. Just kidding, I don't really, I just wanted to see what it felt like to make a Maclean's commenter-style comment. Ew. It feels icky. I think I'll go back to making logical, soundly argued posts.

      • The only kind of person who posts this sort of comment is the angry bearer of grudges. If your only interest here was to provide logical, soundly argued posts, it wouldn't matter to you what other people said about you or your posts.

        • Craig, do you have any on topic commentary to add to the convo? Just kidding, of course you don't, not anything meaningful anyway, you're here to stalk and harass the smart people i.e, people who have more to add than "I donate to charity and therefore am a swell guy".

          Guys like me, intelligent free thinkers, make banal boneheads like you look bad, so your obsession with me and palpable anger is understandable, I guess.

          Shorter Potter Gold: "You're Angry." "No, you're angry!" Impressive, folks. Very impressive. Just kidding, it's not impressive, it shames me as a Canadian that this is fairly typical of the level of debate among adults in Canada in 2009.

          • That's quite an imagination you've got there, guy! (ruffles Phil's hair)
            Dude, give charitably or don't. Do I care what you do either way? No, I do not. Do I care how you feel about how I choose to spend my money? Also, no.
            But, you argued that you don't make charitable donations because people don't like you, and you get snippy with anyone who doesn't see you for the epitome of astoundingness you claim to be. And I'M the one who's not adding to the conversation?

          • I said that large swaths of the population are demonstrably anti-male and anti-white and, me being a white guy, I logically question why I should help people who perceive me as the enemy. That's significantly different than saying nobody likes me which is what you seem to be clinging to.

            You seem obsessed with me, but we're talking about charity here, guy; for a second time, do you have an on topic take that you might share with us?

    • "One parting word – ask anyone who asks you for a donation for their audited financial statements – quid pro quo – you will be amazed at how many charities never ask you again."


      I have chosen the charities I donate to already but when I was looking around to decide who I wanted to start donating to, I was amazed at how shifty some of the orgs could be. I wanted to ensure my money would actually be going to the cause and not to salaries, huge admins or telemarketers who raise money on charity's behalf. I decided they people who were behaving like they had something to hide probably had something to hide. I was finally able to settle on charities that I thought were worthy because they kept their admin costs to a minimum.

      I don't like big orgs or big government – I much prefer smaller government and to let the little platoons work their magic.

    • Any Canadian can see information of a registered Canadian charity via the CRA at

      Which is great as I know from this information that Kate, you are the Managing Director for Charity Intelligence – one of the many charities that is seeking a piece of the 8.2 billion Canadian pie. While I do believe that Canadians need to be asking more questions of where their charitable dollars are going, I take offense that you would use this forum to promote your cause. I can only ask who evaluates Charity Intelligence? Does Charity Intelligence utilize an outside party that evaluates its effectiveness as a charity and provides unbiased evaluation of the methodology to evaluate other charities?

      Because, otherwise, here-in lies a significant problem.

      Anyone interested in checking out Charity Intelligence tax filing can do by searching on the link above. Things are never one-sided, and if all charities are to be under the microscope, then the premise can only hold true that ALL charities must be evaluated.

  33. Being a student, I can't afford to give much, if anything to charity. The past few years, I've bought a food basket at Christmas time for the local food bank, but that's about it.

    However, charity isn't just money – I spend 6-7 hours a week volunteering with three organizations around the city (not including travel time – significant for me). It's far more rewarding than simply cutting a cheque and, for a younger adult like myself, provides some good experience and potential references. If I was getting paid for this work – even at minimum wage – it all adds up to a "donation" of about $3000 a year. Obviously, volunteering doesn't work for everyone, given time constraints and charities often need cash as much or more than they need volunteers.

    The point here is that charity has many dimensions and it's important to find a way of giving that has meaning for you personally. Sometimes that's simply making a careful choice about your charity – a cause you have a real connection to, one that's not borne of simple guilt. Sometimes that's taking a few hours out of your week to get involved directly.

    • I think it's great that you donate your time. Sometimes that's under appreciated. Word of mouth is another invaluable charitable donation. Most people will donate time and money only if they are referred by a friend.

  34. I give and I have tried to give a lot more this year as I have a stable job and many (including many in my own family) do not. I give to the Food Bank. I am good friends with people who work there and I know that every small donation DOES help a lot. I give to a few other health and social charities as well as to some animal ones. And whenever a friend asks me to make a small donation to a charity they are supporting I do, without hesitation, because I want to support the things I care about.

    That being said, I don't think I give enough. Like you said, I could double it and easily afford it. I am not one of those cynics that thinks charities all spend too much on administration, salaries, etc. I have seen the good work they do. I know people who quite literally are only alive because of charities. I am going to try and give even more.

  35. I always find it funny that people are willing to criticize others' charitable donations. If I gave $1000 to help drug addicts or kittens I would be criticized but if I spent $1000 at the casino or on accessories for my truck no one would bat an eye.

  36. "Another is that I'm not rich…"

    Actually, if you have a car, food to eat and a place to live you are rich by the standards of many in this world.

    Like many of the others I donate to charities. I have been blessed to have a good job, family, good health, house etc. and I feel it is my moral obligation to give to the less fortunate. My famiy sponser three children through World Vision. I donate monthly to Canada Food For the Hungry and a few other humanitarian organizations. We give away about 10% and have plenty to live on after that. Sure we could buy a new TV every month (or a new car every couple of years) with the amount that we give away but to what end? Would it make me any happier?

    For Christmas each of my three children gets $100 to give to the less fortunate. Last Christmas with that money they bought part of a well, school supplies, a goat (yes it's true) and seeds. My wife and I don't give the kids anything for Christmas (they get enough from grandparents, aunts, uncles and others) and the reality is that if we did it would be just more "stuff" that would be cluttering up the house.

    • "My famiy sponser three children through World Vision."

      I've seen this happen one too many times: well meaning but soft headed Canadian sponsors a third world kid, then they get a letter from the kid saying that their dad left. Well of course; you've usurped the breadwinner, and broken up a family, nice going genius.

      Imagine if some billionaire sponsored *your* kid by giving relatively lavish financial support; your wife and kid would now consider you some sorta loser and, from a cold hard Darwinian standpoint, have little use for you.

  37. Yes. We give 10% to church and other charities. I prefer places like Hope Mission, Mustard Seed, Meals on Wheels, and organizations connected to health issues. Internationally, I only give to Samaritan's Purse, because they are working right on the ground and the money goes directly to help people. When I gave to the Red Cross for the tsunami, I discovered that not all the money collected went there, but some to their other causes. That is why I choose Samaritan's purse.

  38. We give to a variety of charities (monthly credit card). I choose to give to international organizations (WWF, Oxfam, Unicef) my husband has a few local charities that he has heard of/been involved in. We generally stay donate 1% of gross income. We don't volunteer our time, this has been attempted in the past and has failed for numerous reasons. I find it admirable that some people can give 10% of their income away, but I'm not sure how they do that. I think that I would find it hard to give away 10% of my gross income when we already live below our means, watch our pennies, are diligent about paying off our mortgage and save as much as possible for retirement (no retirement plan aside from our own savings).
    We never give over the phone and we never give in response to mail solicitations.

  39. In our house, we donate to several predetermined organizations.I couldn't say what percentage of household income we give; we're not rich so it's not a lot, but we donate our time as well. We can (only very) occasionally be talked into donating over the phone; kids at the door with cookies or calendars or asking for bottles stand a far better chance than someone on the telephone with a script.

  40. Yes I give – in a very focused way – to a small AIDS orphans support program in northern Tanzania which is largely funded by individuals like me. I know exactly where all the money goes and what it does A local Ottawa high school recently raised $1000 to help. When I met with some classes to thank them and tell them more about Good Hope I asked a question which some of the Good Hope kids had asked me: "Why do Canadian kids want to help us?" Their answers give me hope for the future.

    • "Yes I give – in a very focused way – to a small AIDS orphans support program in northern Tanzania which is largely funded by individuals like me."

      But that has the effect of increasing global warming. More humans=more AGW, no wiggle room there. We need far fewer humans on the planet and you're not exactly helping.

      Now those kids will grow up and have children who have AIDS too, who will require even more money. I know you mean well but you're doing more harm than good.

  41. Here are some reasons the Ottawa gave:
    "Because we have so much."
    "Because we are kids too and we have so much more."
    "Because we have parents to help us – they don't."
    "Because it makes us think about how lucky we are."
    "Because we in Canada have resources to spare."
    "Because we feel guilty that we have so much."
    "Because we are all children of God."
    "Because in the globalized world we have to depend on each other."
    "Because its their world too."
    "Because supporting development is good for everyone."
    "Because it makes us feel good."
    "Because we can!"

    I was pretty impressed!

  42. I give mostly through the United Way, because I know that they examine the books of their member charities and maintain some guidelines about efficient handling of donor money. Other charities that phone or mail leave me wondering "Did they not want to be so scrutinized?" I know that many charitable ventures have high overhead, and could be better managed. I am not equipped to examine and judge each one, so I am grateful that United Way does it for me.

    I will not talk to the annoying professional fundraisers who call. Many of these have lured charities out of the United Way by promising to increase their funding, which indeed they may do, allowing the fundraisers to skim their portion as added overhead. Eventually these folks will give these charities a bad name.

    I also contribute to some charities whose work is focused overseas. Engineers Without Borders is extremely low in overhead, and provides assistance with water, sanitation, farm management, crop marketing, and many other things in Africa and Asia. I also have confidence in the Red Cross in dealing with disaster situations around the world.

    I am glad that most people in Canada are helped by my taxes, and are not dependent on charities to survive. I do not lean on false victimhood to complain about paying tax, when I know that it helps keep a safer,balanced and civil society. I would happily pay more tax to eliminate the begging that food banks need to do. I do not want to live in a nation of selfish loners.

  43. Kiva allows people to help others without giving money. Through, people put up money (as little as $25) so someone, (a farmer in Kenya, a restauranteur in Brazil, or a shopkeeper in India, for example) so that entrepreneur can qualify for a small loan to improve their business. They get the loan, purchase seeds, equipment, or supplies and make their business more profitable. Within 6-9 months the loan is paid back and you get your money back. Then you can reinvest the money in another entrepreneur.

    I have been doing this for years. Currently I have several hundred dollars invested in entrepreneurs all over the world. By investing $100 each holiday season and reinvesting the money each time it is paid back, over 30 years, I will help more than 5000 families around the world.

    At the end of 30 years, if I stop reinvesting the money, I can withdraw the $3000 I invested.

    • That sounds great. I'm going to look into Kiva. Didn't know about them before. Thanks.

  44. Also it's good to remember that callers are usually either volunteers or people who aren't paid much. So they could use a little kindness (or at the least civility) even if it's not possible to give to the charity.

  45. OK, here is my 1% worth.

    I volunteer with one of the 11 "larger" charities in Canada. And I suspect that I donate about 1% of my income to charitable causes. Here is what is starting to create a burr in my saddle – The time I spend volunteering amounts to about 200 – 250 hours a year – not a lot, but with travel, parking and gas, it is not insignificant. However, as a volunteer, there are more than a few "fund raising events" during the course of the year to which most volunteers attend. These events have "fees" attached to them (A Bowl-a-Thon, a cocktail reception, a pub -nite, Walk-a-Thon, etc). There is no one saying I am expected to attend, but there is an implied obligation. So, here I am donating $$ (Small amount), Time (Small amount), Ad Hoc fund raisings for "special situations" (Small amount) and now there is an expectation that I will attend functions as well for a fee. I am starting to feel somewhat annoyed/harassed, and it bothers me that I am feeling this way. I did not become involved as a volunteer so that I could donate more $$; in fact, if I am honest, I decided to volunteer INSTEAD of donating more $$. Now I am doing both/all.

    I am wondering if other volunteers suffer from (or are "dealing with", since I dislike the terms "suffers from', and "confined to a wheelchair" instead of "uses a wheelchair") this kind of "burnout" (not the best word, but it is close to what I am feeling).

    Comments? Observations?

    • "I did not become involved as a volunteer so that I could donate more $$; in fact, if I am honest, I decided to volunteer INSTEAD of donating more $$. Now I am doing both/all."

      Sound like a nightmare but not all orgs are like this. I volunteer with local charities and nothing like your experience has happened to me. When a charity was holding an event, volunteers and/or employees were allowed to attend for free. There were even people showing up for event who didn't know there was a fee or thought it was cheaper than it actually was and they were allowed to pay whatever the could afford.

      I think many big orgs lose sight of their original mission and become something else entirely.

    • I've found things to be the same as jolyon, no fees for most of my work, and minimal ones otherwise. Other than paying for my own background checks, the only fee I've had to pay was to get my photo ID for the hospital I help out at, and I recently got a Tim Horton's Gift Card for $10 from the hospital, so it all worked out to no cost to me.

      It might have to do with the type of volunteer work – what I do is almost entirely working with people in a service role. I can't stand fundraising (it's not in me to ask people for money), so I never have to deal with individual events, just the regular work each week.

  46. I give about 2% of my income every year to 6 groups – have done so for the last 20 years. Why? Aside from feeling good about it, it is a way that I have some control over where my money goes and the results I expect. I am taxed to death for government projects (at all levels of government) that are poorly conceived, poorly run and mismanaged – with few results forthcoming.

    By giving directly to groups – groups that I have researched, know the work they do and the results they get – I know that my money will be used wisely, with care and thought, and will lead to results.

    Maybe not the social conscience that others have, but I work hard for my money and I have to give enough of it away through taxes.

  47. Our 2-person "both-retired" household contributes more than 10% of our annual household income to charitable organizations.

    Why? We must help bail the boat, even if the leak isn't under our seat. We are fortunate to have some disposable income, and we know that some folks need a "hand up – not a hand out" to attain self-sufficiency and independence.

    Our giving is focussed. We do not respond to phone solicitations, and rarely to letters or door-bells. We contribute to a combination of general, health and social organizations in which we have been or are involved, and therefore, which we admire and trust. Some of our favored and regular recipients are General = Edmonton United Way, Edmonton Community Foundation, Salvation Army. Health = Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Heart and Stroke, Alberta Alzheimer's, Good Samaritan. Social = women's shelters in Edmonton, Habitat for Humanity, CKUA, Edmonton Symphony.

    We make memorial donations to the designated charity, and donate in honor of 50th wedding anniversaries and milestone birthdays. We ask that our birthday and holiday gifts be to charities.

    One of us contributes 300 volunteer hours yearly to Habitat for Humanity, in addition to cash donations. One of us is a regular blood donor, well over 100 units. (That truly is the gift of life, and each unit can help so many people.)

    We are thrilled that the "Alberta advantage" recognizes donations to Alberta-based charities at tax time.

    Helping others is the rent we pay for living in such a wonderful country.

  48. Considering that only about 2% of all donations in Canada go to environmental causes, I give most of my donations, currently about 5% of my income, to this sector. Considering that 98% of the donations go back to us, and 2% go to protect all the other millions of species on the planet, this seems a pretty lop-sided equation.

  49. I have been the CFO or treasurer of various charities over the past 20 years or so and I must admit I get a little miffed when people say that charities spend too much on administration and fund-raising. Any charitable organization registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (and therefore permitted to issues tax receipts) must demonstrate each year that it has spent 80% of its receipted gifts on its charitable programs. Failure to do so could result in loss of its charitable status. If anyone is concerned about a charity's spending patterns, they can go on to the CRA's Charities Directorate website and research it for themselves.

  50. Potter's post is telling. It is the logical outworking of his ideology, being a liberal, that taking care of people is always someone else's job. It isnt andrews job, O no, its someone else's job. He has provided proof, inadvertantly, that being a leftist takes away all need for personal responsibility. Its not my job….make the government do it.