The Stanford Social Innovation Review announced yesterday that my post “Why Do People Give to Charity” was one of their top five most read posts of 2008. I’d love to think that this is because it was such a brilliantly written post, but in fact it is mostly due to Google. The post (and my follow up post, “Why Do People Really Give to Charity”) holds the top four ranks on Google for the search term “why do people give to charity”. Interestingly, this is a popular search term and every day I get a handful of visitors to my blog who have just googled that term.
If you think about it, it is rather amazing that there is a whole field dedicated to philanthropy and $300 billion a year is given away, yet a lot of people have no idea why. The most popular reasons that I hear put forth is that charitable donations are made for the tax deduction. This is even more bizarre to me because 1) a ton of charitable giving is done by people who do not itemize their income tax deductions and therefore receive no tax benefit from giving and 2) no matter how fancy you get with tax planning, you will always have more money if you don’t give to charity. The idea that wealthy individuals give $100 in order to save $40 in taxes is irrational to say the least.
I believe that people give to charity because it fulfills the healthy human desire to help others. I think that helping others makes people feel good and improves the world in which they live and so they benefit from the act of giving. That’s OK. It is good to help others and it is fine that givers benefit from giving. You don’t have to resort to guilt, tax evasion schemes and secret quid pro quo arrangements to understand why people give.