Giving to Charity Versus Volunteering

Volunteer workers will sometimes speak derisively of charitable donors who just write a check for a given organization without actually contributing any of their time in order to volunteer. The people who hold this point of view are often very hostile about it as well. Some of them will draw parallels about the sales of indulgences during Martin Luther’s time. Other people will just assume that charitable donors are all callous wealthy people who don’t actually care about the causes that they give to, and that they’re just trying to achieve status among their fellow rich people.

I think that this worldview does a huge disservice to everyone involved with charity, and that includes the people that charities were designed to help in the first place.

For one thing, the idea that all charitable donors are rich is empirically false. Middle class people and poor people in the United States have consistently given a bigger portion of their incomes to charity than the rich. Naturally, when rich people do contribute, a comparatively small portion of their discretionary incomes is still going to be larger in terms of the sheer amount of dollars. However, while giving a million dollars to charity when you have twenty million is generous, the person who gives ten thousand to charity while having a net worth of twenty thousand dollars is technically making the bigger sacrifice.

People also should avoid focusing too much on the generous rich people of the world, like Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett. By and large, wealthy people don’t give most of their money away. The image of the wealth charitable donor may convince some rich people to give away most of their money, but it also does a disservice to the middle class and poor people who really are making a huge sacrifice when they give a certain percentage of their income to charity.

The idea that charitable donors are not giving their time is also wrong in that it misrepresents economics. People need to take into account the time value of money. People spend a good portion of their lives earning money, and that is time that they could have spent volunteering or doing something else. Each dollar represents a certain amount of time that was dedicated towards earning it in the first place. When people donate money to charity, they really are giving their time, but in a very different way.

It should also be noted that not everyone who has a caring heart has a working body. Plenty of people with certain disabilities are not able to go out and do volunteer work. Even doing something like working in a soup kitchen may be difficult for people with mobility problems or problems with pain. People with psychological disabilities like social anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder may have similar problems in that sort of environment. Disabled people should not be shamed for the fact that many of them are not going to be able to help out in the manner of an able-bodied person.