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Throwback Thursday: Ethics of Incentives for Charitable Giving

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


Ethicality is determined by what is right for the most number of people, what is good for the majority. When considering the offering of incentives for charitable acts, such incentives are ethical in being offered as it is virtually impossible to do anything without some form of incentive, whether it be physical or emotional. The incentivizing of charity increases instances of giving – creating a sum total of good for more people.

There is no action taken without motivation, and motivation comes from incentive in some way, shape, or form, whether it be in the form of a physical good – such as a t-shirt or water bottle, or something intangible – such as absolution of guilt for not giving or personal pride in aiding the community; incentives drive charity. Even the world’s first modern charity was not excluded from this incentivizing. The Salvation Army began in Britain in the 19th century, before coming to America. The original goal of the charity wasn’t charity at all – it was the spreading of the word of God. The incentive for charity for the Salvation Army was the strengthening of the protestant church by making charity synonymous with Christianity in the eyes of the poor. While incentivized, the act of charity is not lessened. Still today, the Salvation Army is a model for other charities to follow, and is well respected for the good it does, helping the impoverished gain access to basic necessities, such as shelter, clothing, and food. The incentives given do not lessen the need or outcome of charity, but can encourage an increased prevalence of giving, meaning incentives add to charity, and doesn’t detract from it.

Incentives for charity are offered to encourage charity. Many people are so far removed from the issues charities work to solve that going out of one’s way to provide to charity is not often even thought-of. Charities raise awareness for social issues by giving incentives to give. A common form of incentive offered by charities today is sending address labels customized for individuals who either previously donated, or are a part of the demographic likely to donate. This gives people a personal connection to the charity, and may encourage them to give when they otherwise wouldn’t have thought to; sometimes giving becomes a habit for people, and the incentive becomes negligible. Incentives can encourage more people to give, increasing the strength, reach and overall good the charity can achieve and provide. The presence of incentives does not need to negate the idea of giving or that it can be heartfelt; incentives instead, raise awareness in a way that pushes from passive acceptance of fact – that there are people who need help, to actual taking action to give to the community. Incentives such as address labels are often of insignificant cost to the charity, but can bring in an exponentially greater amount of donations, helping charities and making donors feel appreciated in the process. Thus, more people can be helped when more donations are made, and there is a sum total of good provided, far stronger, and worth far more than the cost of any incentive able to be given, physical or otherwise.

There is a fear, that incentives gives a false reason for charity and thus should be considered unethical, but incentives are always present. The incentive of spreading religion being the first – dating back to the first modern charity, the Salvation Army; the incentive of address labels sent by charities today that raise awareness and encourages those who wouldn’t ordinarily think of it, to donate to charity. The presence of these incentives does not negate the act of charity or its good in society, but rather, can create an exponential increase in the amount of charity given and good able to be done. Whether or not incentives for charity is deemed personally wrong, it is ethically sound as the charity benefits a greater number of needy recipients; those giving charity and thus receiving incentives are no worse for it, are in fact rewarded and encouraged to continue charitable efforts, even without later incentives oftentimes – creating a sum total of good and positive effects.

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