As you may have noticed, I've been a bit slow to post lately; my apologies. We are launching a new product line at work, which has been extremely time-consuming. Thankfully a light is at the end of the tunnel - my new engineer has been hired and I'm training him. I expect the craziness to last only a week or so.
In the meantime, check out this insightful article on charitable giving at the Freakonomics site.
This really rings true to me. We have traditionally given to large charities, to churches, and to people who need it as we see them. This leads to exactly what they are talking about: giving to a major charity, you have no personal feeling of satisfaction. Sure, you helped someone (probably; or paid someone's salary at the charity, which is also valuable); but you don't know who or how. There is no feeling of connection. Spiritually, it kind of comes down to you writing a check in order to pay off your guilt.
But when you give to the guy on the street corner, you make a difference. A $10 gift to a homeless man is much more valuable and makes a much bigger impact than a $10 gift to a charity.
A few comments I have on charitable giving:
1. Sometimes people do not give because they feel it is wasted. "I see that guy all the time," they'll say. Or, "He should get a job instead." Or, "He'll just spend it on booze." To which I say - So? So? and So?
When it comes to Christianity, what matters - his heart, or yours? Is it your right to judge whether he should be asking for help? Or is it your responsibility to help those who ask for it?
Your gift is valuable spiritually regardless of whether he used it properly.
Oh, and by the way - the only way to be certain that he won't get value from your gift is if you don't give it! Give freely, and if he abuses it then that is his issue, not yours. If you are really worried about giving cash, then take them to a hotel, or give them McDonald's, or sodas, or something tangible.
2. Don't worry about being taken advantage of. I absolutely HATE when people say, as they are choosing not to give money to a panhandler, "I heard
about this one beggar in NYC that made $100,000 a year!" Again - so what?
There are three scenarios in every begging situation:
A. He is taking advantage of you, and you give anyway. The result is that you have given with a good heart, and if there is anything wrong it is on him, not you. Does that fact that he does wrong make your gift less generous?
B. He is not taking advantage of you, and you give. This is a win-win.
C. He is not taking advantage of you, but suspecting it you do not give. This is the worst case scenario: someone needs your help, you can help, and because you judged him (already a Christian no-no!), you have withheld your help.
3. Consider the impact of proportion. Small amounts given to dozens of homeless throughout the year will make a bigger impact to people's lives than one medium-sized check written to a large charity.
4. Remember how you are blessed. Whenever I am tempted not to give to a beggar (if I'm actually carrying cash), I ask myself--what else would I spend this cash on? Usually it's snacks or sodas or something else that I will quickly lose value for. That usually helps me realize that it doesn't hurt me to give it.