Is It Always Wise to Give to Charity?
HOW would you feel about giving to a charity if only 1 to 5 percent of what you contributed went to needy ones, whereas all the rest was used to pay for the expenses of collecting the charity funds? How would you feel about giving to a charity if you knew that the president of the charitable organization received $75,000 annually in salary and expenses? You would hardly be pleased or happy about it, would you? And yet such things do happen, and that time and again!
The amount of money annually given to charity in the United States alone is more than twenty billion dollars ($20,000,000,000). Of this amount, about 41 percent is given for religious purposes, 16 percent each for health and education, 7 percent for welfare and the rest for cultural and other purposes.
Many are the charitable organizations that make appeals for funds; some internationally known, others known only locally. And likewise many are the reasons why people give. Some give because they believe it is good business or because gifts are tax deductible. Others give because of feelings of guilt, as though by charity they would atone for their sins. And others give for religious or humanitarian reasons, because of feelings of compassion, empathy or pity.
There is no denying that a blessing can result from giving, even as Jesus, the Son of God, emphasized, saying: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) But he also showed that giving with the wrong motive can prove empty, bringing no favor from God.—Read Matthew 6:1-4.
True, there is a blessing in giving out of right motives, but a person would reasonably want assurance that he is giving to deserving causes. To what extent are the billions that are given to charitable organizations used to help people, and to what extent are these supposedly philanthropic organizations operated by or exploited by men for commercial gain?
In the Name of Religion
On this matter of giving and the methods used, a California newspaper featured an article entitled “Too Much Going for Overhead, Professionals Blamed for High Collection Cost.” It quoted the chairman of the local city’s “Board of Charity Appeals” as saying that the “lousiest rackets in charity” are those run “in the name of God.” In regard to these professional charity drives so sponsored, he went on to say: “Religious groups and those who collect in the name of the Lord are the worst offenders.”
Lending some weight to that charge was an article that appeared in Ramparts, a Roman Catholic lay magazine, a few years back. It charged one of America’s leading Roman Catholic bishops with perpetrating “a charity hoax” on American Catholics with his fund-raising organization known as “The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.” The author, who had interviewed thirty-five bishops in various underdeveloped parts of the earth, stated: “The congregation collects millions of dollars every year, ostensibly to help the world’s poor . . . and it is probably one of the great charity frauds of all time.” When these charges were brought to the attention of the bishop he refused interviews to discuss them and his office stated that he “had nothing to say.”
Serving Without Interest in Personal Gain?
It is generally thought that those serving with charitable organizations are altruistically motivated, but is that necessarily so? For example, for many years a charitable organization was making appeals for money to help feed Oriental orphans, which it claimed to be able to do at $12 a month per orphan. But was the president of that organization primarily interested in those orphans? He received the very same salary of $20,000 that he received when he was executive director of the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce.
Another example was furnished by the late Basil O’Connor, who was cofounder with President Roosevelt of the National Foundation—March of Dimes, and who was the Foundation’s president from its founding in 1938 until his death in 1972. Though initially receiving only his expenses, during the last thirteen years he received an annual salary of $54,000 and expense money to the extent of $21,405. How many people that contributed to the March of Dimes were aware of the fact that its president was being paid $75,000 annually? Would you feel the same about giving, knowing this? Might you not feel you could do more good by giving directly and personally to those you know to be in need?
High Collection Costs
Prestigious, nationally known charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, consider a collection cost of 10 to 15 percent as reasonable and just. Thus, of every dollar contributed, 85 to 90 cents should go for charity. But many charitable organizations come far short in this regard. Thus the American Kidney Fund raised over $779,000 during its first year (1971-72). But only 5 percent, or $39,000, went for patient care; the rest was used for “administrative expenses,” according to the New York Post, June 8, 1973.
Exposing this weakness of charity drives, a Seattle, Washington, newspaper carried a banner headline on its front page reading: “Ridiculous High Cost of Charity Drives.” It told of a case where charity received only $25,000 of the $500,000 ostensibly collected for it, or a mere 5 percent. Among the many other examples it listed was one in which the professional promoters got $131,288.92, the social group giving its name as sponsor got $7,893, and the charities, “Heart Association” and “Community and Youth Activities,” just $1,000; so less than 1 percent went to the needy or deserving ones!
Under the title “The Charity Pirates: The gullible are their prey,” a Canadian newspaper not long ago described how certain professionals operate charity drives. First, they induce some religious or fraternal organization to sponsor the drive, promising it a share of the contributions received. To begin with, experienced men are hired to solicit contributions by telephone. These get 25 cents of every dollar that they are instrumental in obtaining. Then a collector, usually a woman, calls to collect what has been promised over the telephone, and she gets 15 cents of every dollar she collects. The promoter gets 40 cents out of every dollar, leaving 20 cents for the charity and the organization sponsoring the campaign.
Recognizing the danger of selfish exploitation in charity drives, the president of the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, Inc., advised: “No one, under any circumstances, should contribute to any charity as the result of a phone call from a stranger.” In passing, however, it might be observed that a “con” man who was in this racket complained that money is paid for those making phone calls and those making the collection simply because the religious or fraternal or political organizations that sponsor such campaigns are not willing to put forth any effort themselves. If they were willing to do the “footwork” they could realize 85 or 90 cents out of every dollar collected.
Give to the Individual Beggar?
Begging in many of the large cities throughout the world has become a profitable way of making a living. Prominent among those resorting thereto are hippie youths. No longer does the beggar need to plead blindness, lameness or poverty. Seemingly any alibi will do. Thus there is the San Francisco beggar who boasts of collecting as high as $400 a week from tourists visiting that city’s hippie shrine.
Doing even better is the New York violinist who frequents the theater district. By reason of his playing quite well, and especially his sign, which reads, “Violinist Needs Money for Further Studies,” he really is able to tug at the heartstrings of passersby. As a result, he averages $35 an hour. Moreover, he has received checks, savings bonds, cameras, watches, and even invitations to dinner and to Caribbean cruises.
True, there may be times when the one begging is in genuine need, being willing to work but being either physically limited or unable to find employment. In times of natural disaster, famine, or severe economic collapse needy persons abound. Then it is a question of doing what one can with what one has to aid others in their need.
Too, there may be times when prudence indicates giving. Thus an elderly person early on a Saturday morning in New York was approached by a man who said to him: “Say, Professor, I just got out of jail yesterday, give me a dollar.” Obviously that was a veiled threat, and the beggar was very persistent. Especially if it was a bad neighborhood, one might feel that the circumstances called for acceding to the demand. Each one must judge for himself in such situations.
A Balanced View
No question about it, as Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you.” (Matt. 26:11) And he also said, there is happiness in giving, in being unselfish, in being helpful. But to be gullible is to reward the greedy ones or those too lazy to work. Since there are deserving persons and deserving causes, one should practice discrimination. So the time-worn saying, “Let the buyer beware,” might well be rephrased, “Let the giver beware.”
And, of course, those who are Christian ministers are in position to give something far better than silver and gold. And what is that? The truth of God’s Word, which brings comfort, hope, peace of mind and which can even result in life eternal. Having received free, they also want to give free. (Matt. 10:8; compare Acts 3:1-8.) And, in fact, it is in regard to this kind of giving, of spiritual things, that the apostle Paul quoted Jesus’ words about the greater happiness that comes from giving.—Acts 20:35.