The science of charitable giving

20 Dec

New research on the motivations behind charitable giving shows that people are more likely to give (and give more) to a single suffering person than to a group of people, and also are more willing to give when there is a level of physical discomfort involved (think running a marathon for charity).

Although I make an effort to give to a variety of causes, I know that I am much more interested and willing to give to an individual with a specific and immediate need, than an organization assisting a group of people.  For me, at least, the reason is because I have a certain level of skepticism about money I give toward charities actually being applied, in significant amount, to the need the charity represents.  A lot of charities have high administrative expenses, or squander money on protecting their brand, or face various other hurdles from being as effective as I’d hope.  I do use Charity Navigator to try and assess these questions, but even if a charity is efficient and accomplishing its mission, I find it hard to get as excited about making a donation to an organization generally, as opposed to making a donation directed to a specific person or for a specific purpose.

I make a point to give to charitable organizations and causes year round, but my favorite holiday season charity project is my synagogue’s Alternative Gift Marketplace— where you can “buy” a donation of lunches at a soup kitchen, bags of groceries at a food pantry, etc. 

What motivates you to give to an organization or cause?  What are your favorite organizations and causes to donate to?


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