Partly what I’m after is justification of those who refuse to be cheerleaders, those who are the pit bulls/gadflies, who constantly insist “NO, that’s not good enough!” The ones who advocate for the causes no one approves, who are stigmatized in the belief that making people suffer enforces virtue. (A notion Jesus did not approve of -- nor does the Dalai Lama.) These holdouts prevent good people with no imagination from assuming things are all right. They anchor the darkest end of the array of realities, the end people want to deny.
1. The sources of charity in the donor are awareness of need, increase of credibility, desire for prestige.
2. Who are the “needy” ?
3. What is the nature of need?
4. Who is obligated to respond? Public or private?
5. What should be the attitude to the responders?
6. When is charity a ruse for greed?
7. What does anyone really need? (Not just physical things.)
8. What are the bad consequences of need? Are there ever good consequences?
9. What are the bad consequences of charity?
10. What is the relationship between charity and religion?
11. What is the relationship between charity and government?
12. Who should accept charity?
13. How skillful should charity be?
14. How much should charity consider itself a force for change?
15. Why does charity take courage?
16. Unforeseen consequences?
17. How does the media control charity? Idly, for it’s own promotion, in service to the media owners and regulatory forces or funding, cynically because they believe the suffering deserve it, shallowly because they spend all their time “selling” and none absorbing new ways of understanding? All of the above and more.
18. How has the Internet changed all this?
19, How has the shift from desktop computers to handheld smartphones changed everything all over again? (Hint: the Third World has smart phones. They are deeply subversive because they can’t even be seen and yet link so many people together -- in a way parallel to the actual technical means of sending messages in packets through a labyrinth of relays.)
20. If charity is a research project, how does it learn? Where are the lessons recorded? TED talks? EDGE? DICE?
21. “Emergence” is a relatively new and trendy concept for scientists. How does it relate to charities? One suggestion might be the newly urgent need for “save the earth” movements. Others might be about economic patterns as we leave the industrial model and enter an entrepreneurial age, leaving some behind. Another might be new social patterns in which “families” are radically changed. Another might be in the fortunes and means of the arts and humanities. What about micro loans?
22. How much do charities relate to social economic gradients? It is said that too much of a gap in income between the rich and the poor will promote disruption and loss. It is also said that the poor are more generous to the slightly poorer than the rich are.
23. How are charities affected by sudden upwellings of new economic value: Silicon Valley fortunes, the sudden surge in oil strikes by frakking (so far producing as much distress and suffering as money), the increased value of exotic elements for electronics.
24. How should charities divide their resources? Medical? Third World? Single issue? Or does it matter? Help individuals or whole countries?
25. When and how should a charity wind down? At some point charities that have succeeded (the March of Dimes for infantile paralysis) must either find a new mission or simply close down, but they resist ending their own organization and will use possibly unethical means of continuing on -- like endorsing policies that guarantee a continuing need. For instance, funding research for home diagnosis of HIV, urging everyone to get tested, then not continuing the fight for funding to address the high cost of meds for HIV. So now everyone can know whether they are infected, but no one can have confidence that they will be helped to stay alive.
Probably the most criticized aspect of charitable organizations is their fund-raising practices. The three who ask me for money most often are two universities and a denomination. When I was a minister, I took fund-raising workshops and learned some very specific protocols for the annual pledge drives of congregations, often linked to tax time, when people need write-offs to deduct. A small group, maybe only three people, sit down to guesstimate the incomes of congregants. (Invite the bankers.) Another group, large enough for each member to solicit pledges from three other members -- all of whom have larger incomes than their own -- go to homes to ask for pledges. But first, questions are asked about the desires of the interviewed persons for the future development of the church. There are problems with this method, but it is democratic in a sense.
A more problematic kind of fund-raising depends upon a “tent-pole” person like Mother Teresa or Bill Clinton or Rand Paul. These persons need to be recognized, charismatic, and high energy. They may be very rich in their own right, like Bill Gates. The advantage of the latter is that no one suspects him of raising money for his own use, as was the accusation against Greg Mortensen, and has been the accusation against many humane society personalities. And even ministers.
It’s not always for money -- sometimes it’s for votes. There is a young lawyer in this state, the one who started the lawsuit against Greg Mortenson for exaggerating in his books. (At first the lawsuit didn’t raise the issue of diversion of funds-- all funds have been sorted out now in a court-approved settlement, which labeled the “misleading book” claims “frivolous.” Mortenson remains part of the charitable organization with court permission.) The consequences to Relin, the co-writer, in terms of money and reputation, were so severe that he committed suicide. This is not a reversible consequence.
The lawyer’s previous high-profile case had been against the railroad for parking unused grain cars on the rail line that went along a scenic river, with the argument that it was ruining the view and therefore the value of the “second homes” of wealthy people. Why do we argue about the view from a fishing cottage when the river itself is endangered by global warming ending the snowpack that feeds it? Where is this lawyer’s lawsuit against greenhouse gas emissions?
It would seem obvious that a good charity is one that is invested in a good cause, but the truly needy are not necessarily the most savory of characters. Living on the street. Doing sexwork. Taking drugs. Stinking. Some people would rather donate to the symphony. Whatever the charity, one ought to reflect on motives, goals and likely outcomes. The catchy little triple phrase is “faith, hope and charity.” Only charity pays the bills. (Love means picking up the tab.)