Sunday, November 20, 2005

Generously Giving

The Washington Post has a number of articles on charitable giving today in the business section. It discusses specific examples of prosperous people who have very generously donated or sponsored charities. It also lists some figures for private donations to specific events. According to the figures in the article, people in the United States donated $26 million for the earthquake in Pakistan on October 8th of this year, $2.2 billion to hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast, $1.6 billion to the victims of the tsunami in Asia last December, and $2.8 billion in response to the September 11th attacks. These are all gifts to strangers. But how much more do we give to those whom we dearly love? Are we more likely to help a family member or friend in need or a stranger? The figures in the article don't measure the time we donate, the innovations we create that make life better for everyone, or the help we routinely offer to those around us.

Generosity is not the only motivating factor, however. We often donate when we no longer value the items that we are donating but instead value something else that we may obtain by giving up the items. For example, I often give away clothes that I no longer wear. It is not out of my generosity, but out of my own self interest. Sometimes I value more space in my closet more than I value the sweater I purchased two years ago. In giving, I not only benefit the recipient, but benefit myself. The amount I give is also directly related to my income. As my income rises, I give more than I may have given the year before. If my income were to increase by a sudden decrease in taxes, I would be inclined to give even more. Again, I don't have to be generous; I may simply purchase more expensive items and then give away my old items that I no longer value. Regardless of my motives, everyone benefits.

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