Penny NEEDS To Give To Charity … Why Doesn’t Rich Give More?

Dear Rich,

You’ve done a great job in telling me why I shouldn’t donate to charity (it’s a puzzle, my money would go further in paying down our student loan debt, etc.), but you didn’t really address why YOU don’t give more to charity. YOU don’t have debt. YOU’RE making plenty of money. You never really answered my question.

Sure, you say that you “could give more to charity as a line item,” and that you “pay tens of thousands in taxes, and some of that money goes to programs that help people in your situation”. But that kind of forced giving is not charity. It’s like the difference between forcing your kids to give you a hug and them giving you one of their own accord. It’s not the same thing.

Also, being generous with your friends and family (which you are), although wonderful and lovely, is not the same as being charitable. So, I still don’t quite understand what’s stopping YOU.

I want to explain a little bit more about why I choose to give:

1) It’s not so much about the charity’s need for my money, it’s about my need to give.

We need to be able to give. We need to be generous. We need to be grateful for what we have and to be generous with it. We need to do that in order to be fully alive and engaged with this world. We NEED to give. No matter how little we have (and I know we have little and I know we have a lot of student loan debt), I like to give what we can. That’s just a part of life, to me. I can’t think of a single reason why I wouldn’t want to do it.

2) As a member of the human race, we belong to each other. We need to take care of one another.

3) I love people and I want to help them.

I get what you’re saying about the money making more, in the long run, if it went to pay off the student loans instead of going to charity. But if I did that, then I wouldn’t be GIVING, and that, in itself, is so important to me. If I waited until the student loans were repaid, and I died tomorrow, then I would not have given what I could when I could. Giving is about so much more than the money.

Being over-fixated on paying back our student loans is not a good thing. If I were to obsess over every purchase I made, or amount I donated, and thought about it in terms of how much money I would save if it were put toward student loan debt instead (Let’s see, I would like to spend this $100 to send my kid to summer camp. But, oh, if I was to put that $100 toward student loan debt instead, I would save $87.75 over the 13 years I’ll have that loan, so it’s really like I’m paying $187.75!)… it would make me crazy! Life, and debt, and charity, is about so much more than money.

I wonder if most rich people think about charity the way you do. A quick search of the web tells me that you’re not the only one.

This article from The Atlantic talks about how the wealthiest Americans donate 1.3% of their income; the poorest, 3.2%.

Here are some tidbits from the article:

  • One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income.
  • Lower-income Americans are presumably no more intrinsically generous than anyone else. However, some experts have speculated that the wealthy may be less generous—that the personal drive to accumulate wealth may be inconsistent with the idea of communal support.
  • “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything, the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. They are more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

I’m not saying I agree with these statements one way or the other, I just find them (as well as our conversation about this) interesting.

I’ll end with this quote by Rabbi Daniel Lapin from his book Thou Shall Prosper (a book that I want to read but haven’t gotten around to yet):

“Don’t try to find a rational reason for giving away money. Charity is irrational.”



8 Replies to “Penny NEEDS To Give To Charity … Why Doesn’t Rich Give More?”

  1. Hey Penny — well at least you didn’t put me on the spot! Ha ha. But seriously, I dig this post. You are asking what a lot of low income families are probably thinking — why wouldn’t a high income family like mine give more? I appreciate honest conversations like this.

    I’ll give this some thought and challenge my assumptions. Thoughtful people of any income bracket should be willing to question themselves.

    One question pops to mind about your assumptions … If giving is about so much more than the money, why do you need to specifically give money? At the heart of this question is not a desire to stifle your giving, because I respect it. It’s more that I’d love to see your own financial situation improved to the point where you don’t depend on charity for yourself.

    Maybe that’s me projecting my own values, because self-sufficiency is so important to me. Is this a core difference between us? What do you think about self-sufficiency?

    More later! — Rich

  2. Penny and Rich – Much kudos to both of you for this blog and what it represents. And thanks to Rich for linking to the humble beginnings of my blog.

    I do not envy Rich and his having to formulate a response. Not an easy thing to do without seeming like an a-hole. Good luck! 🙂

    1. Thanks Mr. Zero. I’m not sure any answer will do this justice. I’m going to try. One part I’ve been thinking about is this: where’s the line between independence and dependence, or self-interest and selfishness? And to what degree should I help my flesh and blood family ahead of the human family? I’ll need to narrow these thoughts down or I’ll end up writing a book.

  3. We give between 3-5 percent of our income to charity every year. Much of that is in the form of non cash donations of things we no longer use or were given and don’t need. I view donations and charity as something that should be based on the happiness I brings you, Generosity does bring happiness as studies have found. Afterall at any income level or financial situation one can use logic to rule out or increase a contribution. It’s not a logical question, it’s a values question.

    1. Great point FTF. As you and Penny have both made clear, giving is not entirely about rationality or logic. It’s mostly about values. The tricky part, sometimes, is making sure that one’s actions do in fact reflect one’s values. If I say I value generosity but I never give to anyone but myself, I’m self-delusional at best and hypocritical at worst. That’s an extreme example and doesn’t describe me. But, the point is I want to look myself in the mirror and recognize who’s looking back at me. I know it’s a happy guy, and I think it’s a good guy. It’s certainly a comfortable high income guy, so I appreciate Penny’s challenge ….

  4. I have no statistics or anecdotal evidence to back this up. But I wonder if the poorest give the most because they have been on the receiving end of charity and want to help others like they have been helped. Since they have first hand experience they are more likely to give.

    Since the rich probably haven’t been in that position they may not have the same perspective.

    Definitely an interesting topic!!!

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