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Is it really that charitable?

November 14, 2008

I’m a little skeptical when I get letters and emails from bright young college/high school students asking for my support to go on a church mission to Africa (or wherever).

It isn’t that I think they aren’t really going to go, or they won’t do good while they are there. But is sending groups of young people to Africa for 10 days here and there truly the most effective use of charity moneY? I think that at least half the money (if not more) is being used so the young person who is going on the mission can have that experience. That experience is certainly valuable, and I’m really excited to send my cousin $50 so she can go do good works across the world. I’m excited for her.

But is the $4000 it will take to send her really the best charitable use of that $4000? I doubt it.

I don’t know what my complaint is. I don’t mind sending the money (and if I did, I’m not obligated to), and I’m glad she’s going to get the experience, and glad she is going to make a difference somewhere. I guess I’m not sure if I view going to Africa as much of a sacrifice, even if you are going to work really hard every day you are there. If people wanted to chip in for my plane ticket to spend my entire break doing charitable works, I’d be thrilled and excited.

I don’t know. What do you think?

By the way, I think I’ll take the money from my travel fund. I don’t have any travels planned in the near future, and my christmas travel is paid for. And it is for travel, just not my own.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2008 5:14 pm

    I would just consider that a friend or cousin gift, not charity. I understand that I’m enabling them to DO charity, but it’s still not really charity in my calculations. Probably doesn’t matter anyway, it’s making a (positive, I’d hope) difference in someone’s life, or lives, right?

  2. November 14, 2008 9:09 pm

    I’ve never received (or even heard of) the type of email you’re talking about, so I cannot totally relate. However, probably my biggest dream as a human being is to do charity work in Africa. I went there as part of my trip earlier this year, and the continent resonated with me like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Indeed, to go on a trip there, with expenses paid, would be a humongous opportunity far wilder than my most ambitious dreams. Definitely a gigantic luxury for the student who is fortunate enough to be selected to get the experience of doing volunteer work in Africa. Please, I’m not sure what kind of money you donate to charity, but please be careful. I know that you’re interested in travel in general, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see you giving money away for an experience you yourself could have. You, and the value you give to the world, are far more valuable than that.

  3. November 15, 2008 4:41 am

    Been there, done that…

    As a youth, I went to Europe under this sort of guise… Considering how much money was raised to help fund and send our group over there, well, let’s just say that I don’t recall doing much charitable work (if any) when we got there… other than, say, just plain old representing out city and state by physically being there…

    That said, the experience was great (and should be great for your cousin too!), but the original premise was total bunk…

  4. November 15, 2008 4:45 am

    My day job is to get college students involved in community service, so I work with students going on trips like this often. Sometimes the cost of a trip like this can seem unsettling (think about, for example, what $4,000 could do if you just sent it straight to the organization with which the student would be working). However, in my experience, much of the good that comes out of trips like these is the transformation that happens in the minds and hearts of those who go. Very often, their lives are truly changed in some way, and they come back from an experience like this with a commitment to continue to serve throughout their life (not necessarily as full time work, but on a regular basis). I think when a person makes that type of commitment due to what they saw and experienced while abroad, the investment was a really good one!

  5. November 15, 2008 7:56 am

    I tend to agree with Revanche. It’s sort of like charity but in kind of an indirect way. I had a good friend of mine go to Africa and do something similar, and they had the experience of a lifetime; coming back to the states, she said that (as you can imagine) her whole perspective on life had changed.

    Charity, in my mind, is anytime you do something completely selfless for a good purpose- I guess this classifies.

  6. November 17, 2008 6:17 am

    It depends on what is being done while the student is in the country. I went on a church trip to Mexico and we spent a week sleeping on cots, building a house for a single mom with 2 kids, and volunteering at the soup kitchen. Because our accommodations were free, the trip wasn’t that expensive. Each volunteer paid for the cost of his or her own trip, and then we collected clothing donations from the church that we took with us, along with money raised in the church that was later used for buying school supplies for the poorest kids.

    Even if the money spent on the trip didn’t balance out the amount of help provided, it was an amazing experience for me, and I think the biggest benefit of something like this is exposing more people to the state of impoverished countries. Not so that as a high school student they can make a few meals, but in hopes that as an adult they will see the importance of giving back– whether it’s to contribute money or make smart business or political decisions that affect these countries. Or if they grow up to be Bill Gates or Bill Clinton, they may see the benefits of starting a foundation and giving back. Also, it’s good for both the volunteers and the people of the host country to interact. The more you learn about someone else’s culture, the more tolerant you tend to be, and the more you break down stereotypes and misconceptions.

  7. Julianne permalink
    November 17, 2008 7:01 am

    In some ways it seems like you are paying for this other person to have a life changing experience rather than for actual charity. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give support if you are able, however, I agree that it should be viewed as a gift to the person rather than a charitable contribution. In many cases, there is a framework set up so that the gift can count as a charitable contribution on your tax return, which doesn’t really hurt anyone and may help you.

    Personally, I think it is important for the individual going to provide at least 1/3 of the money (ideally more like 1/2) in addition to getting contributions from others (in most cases). If it isn’t important enough to them to spend their own money on, why should it be important enough to me to spend my money on?

    It is going to vary between situations and the people involved.

  8. November 17, 2008 8:43 am

    My question wasn’t if giving my $50 was charitable. It is probably more of a gift, but I’m not focused on how to categorize it. My question was, how charitable is it of my cousin to go there. I won’t donate enough to charity for taxes to matter.

    I agree with you Julianne – “In some ways it seems like you are paying for this other person to have a life changing experience rather than for actual charity.” Which is ok — $50 isn’t that much, and I’ve had some amazing experiences, and some of them were paid for with scholarship. And it was a small request, I could easily have ignored it.

    Even more questionable is the amount of money churches spend supporting their missionaries abroad. (Questionable, as I’m not particularly religious. I can see how someone who is finds that vital).

  9. November 17, 2008 10:56 am

    Since it’s your cousin, obviously sending her the money is a nice thing to do.

    I do want to put a warning out there about strangers who come knocking on your door asking you to buy magazines to send them on trips or for them to win a scholarship. These are scams! (SP, this is what I orinigally thought you were talking about, so that’s the only reason I mention it here.)

    As far as your cousin goes, I think this experience will be a lot like the Peace Corps. It doesn’t do much except change the world view of the kids who are part of it. It will definitely help your cousin, though!

  10. November 17, 2008 11:46 am

    Interesting post …. I’ve come across a lot of people (relatives, ex-interns, friends of friends) raising money to go on several month long sponsored cycling trips in Italy and Africa this year. I think it’s connected to not being able to find entry level work – so take off for a while. I’ve given a few bucks here and there depending on the individual but am really thinking “who are you kidding guys?!” Personally I’ve had my eye on a “volunteer holiday” at an orang utan sanctuary in Malaysia for a while, but I wouldn’t be cheeky enough to ask someone else to help fund it!

  11. November 17, 2008 2:11 pm

    @PA – yes, I’ve had those magazine sellers once. SCAM

    @guinness – Yeah, it is interesting… I just wonder where this idea that it was ok to ask for money for this sort of trip.

    Of course, the letter says they are really asking for my prayers or clothes to donate (but money is also appreciated). I went to a church high school, and I know my parents got a couple letters like this from my friends, even some that I wasn’t particularly close to. (I assume they ignored those ones).

  12. November 19, 2008 1:45 am

    It certainly is charitable, no question. A substantial chunk of our church’s general giving goes to support overseas missionaries, and we regularly have groups of our own members go to other countries for missions work.

    It’s usually not all direct donations that fund these trips, but a combination of fundraisers, designated giving, and direct donations.

    I find that the cost also usually tests the faith of the person who wants to go do the missions work, since they’re relying on God to get them there, both physically and financially.

  13. November 19, 2008 8:59 am

    @mb – I just don’t know if I feel that going abroad specifically to share religion is something I believe much in. As for other mission work, I think there are much more efficient ways of helping then sending church groups for a week or so.

    I’m not saying it is a bad thing to do, and I still support my cousin.

    I’m just saying I don’t think it is all that much of a sacrifice on her part. I’d love to go to Africa and do charity, especially for free, even if I had to “test my faith” by not knowing whether or not my friends/family/fundraising could get me there, and trusting God to provide…..

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