Donation Station

The Library now has all my unwanted books, and this is a good thing.  Over the past few years I have made donations to earthquake relief and hurricane relief and tsunami relief, which is also a good thing.  And I have already planned some of my donations for next year for various organizations like the EFF and CBLDF, which is, again, a good thing.

But, here’s the thing:  I don’t feel like it’s doing any good.

I calculated the other day, that I give between four and six hundred dollars a year to various charities and organizations.  I do not mind giving the money as God knows I’m only going to use it for comic books and beer, and I don’t mind that my choice of organizations discloses my politics more readily than a T-shirt.

A Tim Harford piece that Slate Magazine ran a few days ago has got me thinking though.  The piece said, essentially, that most of us are not nearly as altruistic as we would like to think we are.  Further, most of us do not donate in a way that does as much good as we like to think it is.  The cause given for this is that we tend to only give when prompted and we tend to try to spread the wealth around, much as we do with investments.  The piece makes the point though that if we have $50 to give, shouldn’t we pick the best cause and donate all of it, rather than trying to give $10 here and $10 there until it’s gone?

I don’t know.

I decided to take all my old books, the ones that have been sitting under the stairs gathering dust, to the library.  The library has a good English section, proportional to the number of fluent English speakers in the area.  My donation is equal to about half of the current number of books.  I felt like that was  a good donation because it will be helping other people like myself.  I felt like it was doing the community (of English speakers) some visible and tangible good.

But I don’t know how to make giving money feel that way, and I’m not sure if I should be trying to.

As I wrote above, I have been planning my donations for the next year.  These are the easy ones, the ones where donating equates with becoming a member and getting some kind of reward, like a hat or a T-shirt.  My personal causes tend to be Freedom of Speech and First Amendment groups; I plan these donations because I have to spread them out.  Even though my total yearly donations rarely exceeds a significant fraction of my paycheck, I still need to space them a bit as this lets me keep a bit of money around for urgent relief needs (Katrina, for example).  The problem is, I don’t really have any way of knowing if this money is actually helping.  I trust the organizations I give to, but I wish I knew in what way my money was helping out.

It seems like there should be some sort of tithe system in place, completely separate from any church.  (Nothing against tithing within the church as long as the money is going to support community projects and not lining some elder’s pocket.)  Somewhere I could tick off a list of causes I find worthy and have my money parceled out to them every month from a group fund.

I don’t know.  I don’t mind donating money.  I don’t mind giving to charity.  I just wish I felt better about it.

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