Head or heart? Donation decisions can be difficult
When people think about making charitable donations, sometimes they don’t really think at all.
Instead, they give based solely on emotions, which is fine.
A recent blog on the website of The New York Times, however, recognized this distinction was “one of the big debates among donors and their advisers: is it better to give in response to an emotional need or feeling, or are dollars better spent when tied to a metric that measures how effective they are?”
The “Wealth Matters” column by Paul Sullivan dealt primarily with how the author and his wife had fallen into the habit of primarily supporting charities that help blind people, the result of having adopted a retired guide dog.
“We have been emotional givers from the start,” Paul Sullivan wrote. “It always seemed like a pure good to support groups that helped blind people. We’ve never looked at the ratings from Charity Navigator or GuideStar on either group. But we have followed closely what both organizations have done. We may have gotten lucky.”
“The giving with the heart people, they may go wrong in trusting an organization that is not trustworthy,” Gene Tempel, founding dean of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, told Sullivan for the blog. “One of the pieces of advice we give to people is get to know the organization. It means walking into the organization and asking questions. It means asking for a copy of an annual report.”
“The whole issue of measuring and metrics and trying to have impact data is, I think, a very contemporary part of philanthropy,” the blog quoted Thomas E. K. Cerruti, former personal lawyer to Sam Skaggs, a billionaire philanthropist who made his fortune in supermarkets and drugstores. “What motivates people to give? For selfish reasons, a name on a building is at the top of the list. But some people want to effectuate something that has some personal interest to them. Other types of motivations are hard to analyze.”
In essence, the article suggests that while the heart might be a good guide in deciding the type of organizations to support, the head might want to play a role in ensuring the donations do some actual good.