Consider these hypotheticals:

Your brother buys a new car. Would you:
a) Ask how much mileage it gets?
b) Ask if he got a good deal on it?
c) Ask why he didn’t give the money to charity instead?

Your friend gets a face lift. Would you:
a) Tell her how natural it looked and ask who her doctor is?
b) Pretend you didn’t notice, because that would imply it’s so natural you couldn’t tell she’d had surgery?
c) Ask why she didn’t give the money to charity instead?

Perhaps those are unrealistic examples. Anyone who answered c) to either question would likely be barred from family events and probably wouldn’t have any girlfriends.

But you get my point. It’s only when you’re being charitable in the first place that people think they have the right to question where your largesse (or smallesse) is directed.

How perverse is that?

These thoughts were inspired by the hullabaloo over Patrick “the Miracle” Dog (just Google those terms if you haven’t heard of him). I have my own problems with that; I’ll blog about them separately. But here I’d like to address only the supreme chutzpah of questioning other people’s charitable choices — in this case, people who insist only human causes are worthy.

Well, then, which human causes? Only the ones that affect young people? If so, what’s the cutoff age for the term “young”? Cures for diseases pose similar dilemmas. Do you contribute to research to diseases like ALS because they’re particularly debilitating, or cancer, because it affects more people?

I’d venture to say most people’s choices are purely emotional — and very personal to them, down to whether they are more moved by horrific images or happy ones.

Are there valid questions to ask other people about their charitable urges? Of course. You can question whether a friend’s money is going to the place she thinks it is going to. An excellent example of this type of critique appeared recently on the Doggie Stylish blog, which made a strong case for Why You Shouldn’t Support the HSUS.

But questioning someone’s heart? What gives you the right?

23 thoughts on “No Good Deed Goes Uncriticized”

  1. Well, if you live in Canada, many animal groups won’t be considered charitable for much longer (according to the federal government). Hopefully though, people who donate will continue to give whether they get a tax receipt or not….since as you suggest, most people are likely donating due to their own emotions.

    1. Yes, that’s part of what Karen’s post about HSUS that I’ve linked to explains. But you make a good point that takes what I’ve said a step further: How dare the Canadian government presume to make decisions like that?!

  2. The charities we support is such a diffcult choice. And we hardly experience anybody in our direct circle to agree with our choices.I guess we all experience that. Can we not talk and discuss about it then? sure we can. As some of our donations may be based on wrong interpreted information, which could be the case as with HSUS, as Karen’s post points out. Discussion is good so we can make up our minds and know we spend our pesos where we want to spend them.

    We don’t have a fixed amount we want to spend on it, that is maybe wrong. Because it allows you make emotional decisions. In a “good” month it is easier to spend, but what about the month you are a little short on (luxury) cash? no charity? Structure in your spending on charities is important for the charity also, which makes sense, although I forgot where I read that.

    About the perverse part, you are absolutely right. If anybody would question me to have spend money on luxury instead of charity, they are more then welcome. I would love them for bringing it up, although the choice is still ours, no offense taken. Actually, that sounds like some real good friends to me. If we are not able to lift our discussions above the latest job and goodie achievements, maybe we should re-evaluate our choice of friends. Culture in Denmark is different though, it is easier to bring op these kind of questions according to the popular: “Jante” Law. Which brings another problem, but thats another subject 🙂

    1. It was Pamela of Something Wagging This Way Comes who brought up the importance of being consistent. Here’s the link:

      What an interesting idea “Jante” Law is — though I can see where it would be taken much too far. I think American culture is the polar opposite: Everyone is “special” and privileged and entitled these days. Ugh.

  3. I view donating to charitable causes like religion, it’s not my business. Whatever a person does with their money is their choice. Donating to charitable causes, no matter how important or insignificant they may seem are the personal choice of the donor. Want to donate to saving mosquitos from extinction? If it’s important to you, go fot it!

    I would like to clarify the proposed Canadian changes to definitions of animal charities. The definition of charity is something that directly provides benefits to HUMANS. Relieving to suffering of animals benefits human society by advancing the morals of society and providing education regarding animal issues.

    Animal shelters and animal rescues are NOT affected by the proposed changes to the law. What is affected are animal charities with political agendas ie. PeTA or a charity that champions a cause that will cause harm to humans be it physical, financial or otherwise.

    1. Hmmm. But how do they decide what will harm humans? Or precisely what a “cause” is? It sounds squishy and complicated.

      1. I can give you a example of causing “harm” to humans and it’s going on right now! The Canadian Seal hunt seems to stir up a lot of emotions for people. The harp seals in question are not endangered, are dispatched in a humane manner (some folks think otherwise) and the quota numbers for the seals are carefully regulated by the Canadian Government to sustain a healthy population.

        While seal hunters do not get all their yearly income for the seal hunt, they derive a fair portion from it. Ending the seal hunt would stop that stream of income to people in a Province that has a scarcity of jobs to being with. I’m pretty sure that could be a fair example of financial harm.

        So, if an org. wanted to protest and work to end the seal hunt, they can do it all they want, they just can’t qualify for tax relief with a charitable status.

        1. Yeah, but that’s still a tough call with a lot of ambiguity. Let’s say an organization wants to end trapping of animals that are not endangered because the traps are cruel. It could be argued that to end trapping would end the fur business which would endanger jobs. This is not a hypothetical; my mother had a job sewing fur coats and hated Peta for that reason. But other organizations want to stop trapping too. So… what constitutes cruelty? And how many jobs do you need to save?

  4. They don’t have the right. I send my few spare pennies where I choose and how dare anyone question me as to why I don’t give to some other charity! Never mind the rudeness of the assumption that I don’t. I have always been one to keep my donations secret. Partially because my lack of ability to fulfill what my heart says bothers me and partly because I have always frowned on public credit for charity. To me it’s not quite the same if I get credit for it. (But that’s me.) But that means that even the assumption that the person I am talking to knows what I give to and what I don’t is wrong. It also violates one of my rules for public dealings: don’t give advice unless asked, so I am very likely to not stick around someone who starts such a conversation with me. I find people who say such presumptuous things generally have ulterior motives, if you know what I mean.

    1. I’ve never actually had the question posed to me, thankfully, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen comments to that effects on blogs, newspapers, or TV clips that highlight people giving to funds to causes like rescuing animals in Japan, say, or… really any story that makes the news on a large scale. And I always think about how literally uncharitable these comments are.

  5. I’ve found that often the people who criticize animal charity donations the loudest are the ones who don’t donate ANYTHING to ANY charity.

  6. My father never told us how he voted. “We have a secret ballot. No one else needs to know.” I respected his position. Similarly with my charitable dollars. I do weigh how much is used for the cause and how much is for advertisement and mailings. I stopped giving to Heifer International because I was bothered by the frequent glossy mailings I received and then found how much overhead they had for those. I now give to Partners in Health. The overhead is minimal – the results awesome. I agree with Doggie Stylish – I am part of and do contribute to my local no kill sanctuary and my local public radio station. I don’t give to United Way. Not because it is bad but the corporate structure has so bought into it, I would rather give to the Red Cross on my own than letting my workplace chalk me up as one of their givers. Excellent discussion. I did read the HSUS piece Do not animals benefit humans? Yes, not all animal charities will go by the wayside in our neighbor to the North but apparently will need to assess their benefit to humans as well as the saving of animal lives.

  7. I don’t understand why people would think such questions are okay and not just extremely rude. While I have talked to many people about how little many well-known billionaires actually donate to charity, how minute a percentage of their income, it really isn’t up to me what this person does with his or her money. Nor is it really my right to question or call them out publicly.

  8. Great discussion! I have heard people ask why put chartible efforts and considerable energies into Lake Shore saving animals when you could be doing that for Juvenile Diabetes or at least helping people. Ucghk! It is goofing and galling at the same time – makes my brain short circuit!

    As to Canada’s efforts to rid deductibility status for contributions to HSUS and PeTA, I wonder if the thinking behind this law will wend its way to the US, and how that might effect pet-friendly legislation. (HSUS has a rep in every State to help the State support anti-cruelty and humane animal legislation, and to oppose legislation deemed harmful through lobbying and activist efforts.)

  9. Of all the monies donated to charitable causes, only two percent goes to animal and environmental causes. Ninety-eight percent goes for “human” causes. If /when I’m questioned about my donations or causes I support, I just share that little tidbit with them, then ask if that two percent of charitable giving is really worth giving me grief over.

    1. Wait, I’m not understanding what you mean by that, Vicky. The reputable charities give far more to their actual causes than 2%.

      1. I think Vicky is talking about the giving pie chart by sector that showed only 2% of *all* giving went to animals and the environment, while the greatest share went to religion – something like 60%. I should think that has changed since I was last at the Donor’s Forum using their library years ago. I know Robert Reich had a report out of Standford on social innovation, and his pie chart did not use the same sector labels as Donor’s forum info did, but that was back in 2005. All thing being equal, that amount should have at least doubled by now, but then, all things are never equal are they? I wonder if the Foundation Center in NY might have some updated percentages by sector.

  10. I often wrestle with that on a personal basis but never ask others. My solution is that I donate almost exclusively to charities that support humans (sometimes I cave for a local dog plea) but I work in the arts (where I make much less money than I would in the corporate world, hence indirectly supporting the arts financially) and I volunteer regularly with a local dog rescue. That way I can support the different issues I care about without having to try and spread my donations too thin.

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