Opinion: The reward for charity should be the feeling

K-State Proud t-shirts on display for purchase on the K-State Proud table in the Union on Feb. 25. (Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

As Thanksgiving approaches and Christmas shopping season looms ahead, so starts the season of giving. However, it’s not just the people that are feeling generous.

Charities like to incentivize giving so that more people donate. This is done either to convince people to contribute or at least spread awareness. Though “awareness” is just another advertising buzzword lately, this is actually the good part of gifting. A T-shirt displaying the name of the organization is a sort of public trust. The wearer is out getting help for those who need it without having to be a salesman.

No, the worse part of gifting an item like this is that it sounds more akin to bribery. It also takes away from those that need help.

Take K-State Proud for instance. It’s the student run organization that helps out financially-stressed students by giving them aid to stay in school. These students get their money from donations from others, who receive a T-shirt in return for a donation of at least $20.

I’m not an expert, but I’m sure a T-shirt is pretty much the cheapest gift to make and it gets the word out. It’s probably the purest, classic example of “you gotta spend money to make money.” If they didn’t give out something with their name on it, the only people that would know about it would be the passersby. Something like a shirt would remove the necessity of word of mouth to spread the word.

Tactics like this are smart. What I have a problem with are things like graduated donor levels, lavish gifts and the attitude that says, “I should be grateful that people are doing bad so I can help them.”

It also has been proven that it actually hurts charities. A study by Science Direct found out that while the conventional wisdom says that donation gifts may push those who are uninclined to help to give something, it actually discourages most from giving to that charity by decreasing the emotional returns of charity. It’s a visual tool that says instead of money is buying a product, not contributing to a social good. Donation gifts completely destroyed any feeling of altruism the giver felt in the study, and actually made them feel bad about giving.

Things like that diminish the aid that can be rendered, because that money has to spent on donor gifts instead of food, shelter or clothes. Charities shouldn’t be worn as a status symbol. I don’t know of a charity handing out Rolex watches for those that support them, but the flotilla of knickknacks isn’t a comfort.

This brings me to other side of charity being used as status symbol, i.e., professional charities. I use the word professional because these are the organizations you hear about that talk a good game, but on their disclosure forms (that no one reads), half their donations feed the CEO’s salary for the tough job of giving. This is the absolute worst.

And those might be considered the good ones. The two worst charities, as ranked by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting, are the Kids Wish Network and the Cancer Fund for America. Going back 10 years with public filings to the IRS, they collected around $100 million. Respectively, those organizations gave 2 percent – and less than 1 percent of that – in aid to the sick.

Where one is a self-righteous approach to helping others, the other preys on the good nature of those who want to help. With the existence of such swindlers running their game, is it great that now people question whether or not their money helps anyone?

No, especially as studies show that the most able to help others after Housing Market Crises has dropped. The Chronicle of Philanthropy took IRS data and looked at who was making donations. Those giving the least were Americans making over $500,000.

But here is the rub with the so-called “1-percenters” holding onto their pocket books, if people are starting collections to give themselves six-figure salaries, why would you want to help them?

Just like the shirts we choose to wear, we should be careful of supporting causes that exist to help themselves. In the end, we should do as we were once asked and do good for goodness sake.

If you find a way to help people, everything looks and feels better. You don’t need to show your charity swag collection to get that done. Maybe just a T-shirt.

Patrick White is a senior in mass communications.