Why You Need a Budget for Charity

monk in front of children near brown concrete building

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When I was a kid, my Sunday School teacher asked if I had any questions about prayer. I asked him the most pressing question I could think of – can I pray for the Knicks? My teacher reassured me that God cared very much for the Knicks. But even if I prayed for the Knicks, there would be other children (and possibly adults) praying for the other team. So God probably couldn’t intervene in basketball games (which explains why the Knicks are so bad).

But if prayer isn’t about getting what you want, then what in the world are you talking to God for? Later in life I figured it out.

In college, I was very stressed planning a group trip to a Christian concert. (Yes, my life is quite embarrassing). And my friend said he would pray for me. Rather than pray that the details of the concert would go off without a hitch, he prayed that I would be released from worry.

It was from this prayer that I understood that prayer isn’t about getting stuff from God. Rather, prayer is about changing one’s mind. Prayer was about teaching yourself to focus on the things that mattered.

How Prayer is Like Charity

I think charity is as misunderstood a concept as prayer. People think prayer is about getting stuff for yourself. If it were about getting stuff, then you would easily get discouraged that you didn’t get what you want. Logically, prayer can’t be about the results. There are people praying “against” you – praying for their team to win, praying for the job that you want, for the winning lottery ticket. If prayer meant you could get everything you wanted, then everyone would win the lottery every day.  The reason to pray can’t be about getting stuff. Instead the meaning of prayer is to learn to change your mind to want the stuff that you get.

Likewise, charity isn’t about giving stuff to others and getting the results you want. But there are people donating to causes against yours, unfortunately. You give money to support the homeless but there is tons of money going towards other factors that are perpetuating homelessness. You can give money and then find that the charity you support isn’t using it judiciously. These can all seem like reasons to quit giving to charity. It can all seem a little hopeless but I don’t think that means you shouldn’t give to charity. Like prayer, I think charity is more about its effect on yourself, not its effect on others. That way you can’t blame external forces for why not to give to charity.

Why budget for charity?

MsZiyou raised an interesting point in my last post –  reasons why not to give to charity.

I completely agree that there are a lot of charities that are not worth supporting. There are a lot of charities that overpay their staff for very cushy jobs. Some charities seem like their missions are to support Big Charity and to make rich people feel better about themselves rather than improving heir world.  I don’t give to big institutionalized charitable organizations. I refuse even to give to my alma mater state school, which pays its dean $400k.

Just because something is called a charity, doesn’t mean it’s doing any good. Charities might not be solving problems at all, might not be solving problems in an efficient or competent way and some may actually be creating more and worse problems. Still, despite these caveats, I think charity is an integral part of one’s budget. That’s because it’s not about supporting an organization, but about devoting a portion of your budget to help people other than your self.

Where to give your money?

I don’t think limiting charity just to those organizations for which you get a tax-deduction makes sense in a budgeting standpoint or even an ethical standpoint. Charity is money spent to help others. It’s whatever is spent to direct your focus away from yourself.

So the lack of trustworthy organizations is not an excuse not to give to charity. (Sorry, so many negatives). Charity is about regularly thinking about others rather than yourself. It’s about putting our money toward changing our minds.

To me, of course the purpose of the charity matters. One should use one’s money judiciously to do the most good. There’s no point in supporting charities that do a bad job or that support a mission that doesn’t align with your values. I research all my charities and generally only support ones where I’ve volunteered and know the management.

But even if you despise all organized charity, that doesn’t mean you get to forget others in your budget. Your charity budget can include helping people you meet in need. It can be gifts to show your support for those that have helped you. You can give tips to those who are doing great in low-paying jobs.

The important part, in my opinion, is that you realize that you have more than enough in your budget than just for you. You have a responsibility to help where you can. Further, you will only learn to be happy when you learn to give. A life lived just for yourself will ultimately prove meaningless. That’s why you need a charity budget.

8 thoughts on “Why You Need a Budget for Charity

  1. as someone who has previously donated to both oxfam and central asia institute, I really need to do more research before opening my purse string. right now I just do the two public/ listener sponsored radio stations I listen to daily, until I figure out which institutions can be trusted and can be continually monitored. In the long run though, my whole estate is going to a few well deserving charities (once I figure out who they are) so I am not too concerned…

    1. Research certainly makes sense and I’m very impressed that you’re giving everything to charity in the end!

  2. I’m quite similar in approach to coco – I intend on leaving my estate to charity, when I’ll not be around to realise how exactly they spend the money. Interestingly charities seem to have nearly as wide a gender pay gap as the private sector, and the sexual abuse that is coming to light, especially in overseas development is shocking.

    It’s not that I don’t believe in supporting others, it’s more i think charities tend to be wolves in sheep’s clothing – they have evolved to commercialise that “doing good” feeling. At the moment I donate time, which I am very comfortable with as an approach.

    1. I totally understand the lack of trust in charities. And it’s really wonderful that you’re able to donate your time!

  3. Loved this post. We do not often give money to organized charities. We do donate our time though. What I find most fulfilling is to help individuals and families in need that we cross paths with, which is pretty often as an ER nurse and firefighter.

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