Selfish Reasons to Give Money Away


One basic fundraising rule is to tell potential donors what’s in it for them. It sounds strange that charities would appeal to donors’ sense of self-interest rather than to their sense of charity, but that’s what they do, albeit subtly, so as not to suggest that donors are selfish. While I believe that people can (and do) give out of completely non-selfish motives, others are not convinced that is the case. So, for those of you who might want to give, but need a few selfish motives, here are ten benefits to giving away some money:

You get recognition. Most people like to see their names in print. When you make a donation to a non-profit that lists its donors in newsletters or annual reports, you can see your name in print. Your peers may also see your name and think, “Wow! What a generous person!”

It’s good for business. If you are a small business owner, non-profits will often give you free publicity in exchange for a donation. Even if you work for someone else and are making personal gifts, donations help build stronger communities, and members of strong communities are more likely to have the money and the desire to support local, regional, and even international businesses.

You can feel good about yourself. Few people can see the results of their own good deeds without feeling at least a few warm, fuzzy feelings. Most non-profit organizations will send you newsletters that tell you what they are doing with the money they have received; reading these stories can make you feel like you really helped someone else.

You can feel like you’ve done your duty. While donations of both time and money are valuable to the organization and to the person who gives them, you might feel less obligated to volunteer your time if you make a donation. Financial donations can help ease your perceived debt to society, particularly if you have more money than time to give. Put another way, financial donations allow you to support others who do the work on your behalf. It’s like hiring someone to do the things you know you should do if you only had the time. In less selfish terms, for those who truly enjoy volunteering, you can’t save the world alone, simply because people with needs live all over the globe, and you can only be in one place at a time. No matter where you are, your money can help people in many places at once.

You can better appreciate what you have. It’s so commonly quoted that it’s cliché, but seeing someone without feet really does make you appreciate your own, even if you don’t have any shoes. No matter what your circumstances, you can find someone whose need is greater than your own in at least one area of your life.

Budgeting for donations forces you to better manage the rest of your money. Some studies (several are cited here) have shown that students who are involved in extra-curricular activities get better grades because they manage their time better and are able to accomplish more in their spare time than those who are not involved in structured activities. The same principle can apply with money – if you commit part of your time or money to something other than yourself, you are better able to use your remaining resources well.

You can decide where your money goes. When you give to charity, you can select organizations that share your beliefs both about where the most urgent needs are and how those needs should be met. In contrast, your taxes might go to government programs you see either as ineffective or unnecessary. (Occasionally, your tax dollars might even support causes to which you are completely opposed.)

You can help reduce taxes by reducing dependency on the government. I recognize that this is a bit of an idealist statement, and it doesn’t always work this way. (Maybe it never does.) However, in theory, when you support non-profits that have found effective ways to help others out of poverty, through disasters, or in emergencies, you can help the people those charities serve avoid depending on the government for help. When fewer people need government aid, less tax money is necessary, so voluntary donations to private organizations should help lower your taxes. In reality, the tax money is probably diverted elsewhere, but maybe it will go to something that benefits you directly, such as improved roads or more new books in the library.

You might benefit directly from the organization’s services. When I worked in the development office of a non-profit public library, I was surprised to learn that few donors actually used the library. I view donations to the library differently from how I view donations to many other charities — for me, library donations are almost like a subscription fee. They save me about $1,000 a year on books to support my reading habit; my donations help keep them in business. You might not be a reader, but if you use the services of any organization that relies on donations, such as the YMCA, PBS, a volunteer fire company, or even your place of worship, consider how your donation might help that organization help you.

You can take a tax deduction. This benefit is often cited in charity appeals, perhaps because it is one of the more tangible rewards of giving. However, tax deductions only apply for those who itemize deductions, and by themselves, they are a poor reason to give. (I’ll take a deduction where I can, but I’d rather have the money in hand than have a deduction.) Additional tax benefits exist for particular types of gifts, such as stocks, but once again, these benefits are just a bonus for giving.

The next time you receive a request for a donation to charity and you think, What’s in it for me? — answer your own question. The benefits of giving are more than what you might have previously thought.

Image courtesy of Johnny Vulkan

This entry was posted in Personal Finance, Taxes. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *