Thinking About Donating to Charity this Holiday Season? Don’t.

Charitable giving can do more harm than good. Here’s why, and here’s what to do instead.

Nicole M. Luongo

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Photo credit: Etienne Godiard via Unsplash

The Holidays are here, and ten months into a global pandemic that has ravaged families, exposed inequalities, and exacerbated wealth gaps, charitable giving is uniquely significant.

People need help — badly — and those who can give, want to. Covid may have revealed the cartoon villianesque greed of the one — percenters, but it has also inspired unity, forced us to interrogate how we define “essential worker,” and led to moments that are, frankly, heart — warming. Times are tough, but so are communities.

Charities recognize this, and because they know that most of us are fundamentally “kind” (or are at least want to see ourselves as kind), they are capitalizing on 2020s surge of good — will to solicit donations.

Don’t fall for it.

Why? Because charity got us into this mess in the first place. And giving to charity won’t be the thing that gets us out.

Charity, then and now:

First, charitable giving is as old as wealth itself. By 2 500 BCE, the Ancient Hebrews had instituted a mandatory tax (“tithe”) to help the poor, and the word “philanthropy,” (“love of humanity”) first appeared in a play by Aeschchylus in 500 BCE.

However, the definition of charity has evolved. Whereas it once existed to foster independence, wealth redistribution has been usurped by “donations”. And like most things under capitalism, it has also become competitive, hierarchical, and an industry that is more useful for givers than receivers.

It is impossible to condense the complete history of charity into a single article, so I will describe broad transitions that have occurred since the Industrial Revolution. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Europe and the Americas changed: It was a period of urbanization, innovation, and production, and most of it happened rapidly. Rural societies dissolved as male breadwinners competed for jobs in urban centres, and without labour laws (including ones pertaining to child labour), workers were exploited.

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