Charitable Giving: Should it Come From the Heart or The Head?

TAGs: charitable giving, Editorial, Lee Davy

Lee Davy shares his opinion on the charitable head v heart debate that came up during a recent interview with Daniel Negreanu.

I am sober.

Charitable Giving: Should it Come From the Heart or The Head?I made the decision five years ago.

Listening to a sobriety podcast recently, the host was answering this question:

“What were the biggest mistakes you made during your first six months of sobriety?”

There was only one for me.

I was too judgmental.

I have been an effective altruist for over a year now. Interestingly, when I answer that question, substituting sobriety for service, I get the same answer.

I was too judgmental.

During a recent interview with Daniel Negreanu I touched upon a series of Tweets he had posted questioning the mindset of someone who criticizes another when they make a charitable donation to a cause that runs counter intuitive to their own.

“If you are passionate about something, if for example your wife feels emotionally touched by a man sitting on a bench freezing, and you can make a difference to him on a very small level, by buying him a hot drink and it warms your heart.” Negreanu said, “I think emotions and feelings of the heart should matter at that moment. We are emotional beings, not robots.”

Prior to learning about effective altruism I rarely gave to charity. When I did, my donation would always come from the heart, and not from the head. Since learning about effective altruism, I believe it’s far more difficult to give from a logical standpoint than it is from an emotional one. I have to work hard NOT to allow my emotions get in the way of making the correct decision in terms of my definition of what correct looks like.

To do the most good that I can do.

By working so hard to fight against the natural urge to submit to those emotional heartstrings, I tend to fight for my corner a little too hard. And this is where I come off as a little judgmental.

My wife and I clash regularly over my views on effective giving. The feedback I am supplied with is my beliefs are too rigid. I also believe my preacher like stance also annoys. My mother also clashes with me on charitable giving. She is old school, bordering on xenophobic. To do the most good that I can do I need to take the line that all sentient beings are equally as important. My mother doesn’t think that way. She believes we should look after our own. Her definition of doing the most good we can do is to give to the homeless of the UK, not providing bed nets to a child in Malawi.

“What I don’t like is when someone says they are giving money to sick kids in a hospital in Toronto, and then they are jumped upon by people saying there are better ways to give their money.” Said Negreanu.

Negreanu is fairly active on Twitter. Because of this we know he supports the St Jude’s Children’s Charity. Is this a more effective charity than The Against Malaria Foundation? In Negreanu’s eyes it is, because Negreanu is emotionally invested in this charity. He has formed a bond with it over the years.

I believe I was the first member of Raising for Effective Giving (REG). I started donating 2% of my gross income, then 3%, and then it increased to 4%.

I no longer donate to REG.

It was a tough decision.

I felt an incredibly strong bond with them. I imagine Negreanu feels the same about the charities he supports. I left because I wanted to create my own for-profit/non-profit organization that is based on the foundation of teaching ex addicts the power of service.

The Needy Altruist was born.

Instead of directing my 4% to the most effective charities via REG I will do so from my charity. Yet despite the money still going to the same charities, I still found it incredibly difficult to pull apart from REG. It proved to me how strong our emotional glue is on these things.

Negreanu’s twitter altercation with Andrew Barber, and my own heated debates with my wife and mother, tell me that effective altruists need some help when it comes to learning to balance their arguments in the face of often illogical arguments based purely on emotion. They may also need some help learning to live with this newfound knowledge.

A year ago I created a rule that whenever I passed a homeless person in the street I would give them money. I stopped that after learning about effective altruism. Sometimes I want to have a baby. I have terrible internal conflict over whether I should try to produce one naturally, or adopt. I found Christmas to be an incredibly tough time because I felt ashamed of buying presents for people. I refused gifts and instead donated the money to effective charities. On my birthday, I had a tear in my eye when my mother gave me money and said, “Give this to your charity.”

“I find an elitist view of how to live rightly is a dangerous path to walk down regarding judging people on how they are and how they choose to give. When someone gives from their heart, and then judging them for that, and suggesting they do something different, I find that appalling.” Said Negreanu.

I believe these judgments are born from a foundation of passion. We can work with that. We can mould that into a better way of being. I think we should take on board Negreanu’s comments, and play with them for a while. There is room for emotionally based giving, logically based giving, and a mixture of the two.

We do need to be careful though.

We need to do our due diligence on where our money goes.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Are we giving to help others, or to help ourselves through over inflation of our ego?

One of the primary reasons I started giving to effective charities, and later adopted their principles as my own, is because I am lazy.

The Shane Warne Foundation has recently been criticized for only donating 16 cents in every dollar to the children they say they are supporting. If I was donating to this foundation I would want a better return. I also couldn’t be assed to do the investigatory work. I would place my faith in his charity, because that’s what you do when you do business with a charity.

We can’t be so lax anymore.

By donating to effective charities that have been through GiveWell’s stringent review, I feel confident that the money I donate will be used most effectively. I can be lazy, and still help make the world a better place.

Will I change my mind if my father dies of cancer?

I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it.

It’s important to me that I remove emotion from my giving. It’s a choice I am making in order to strengthen my ideology, and therefore make me a more effective communicator on this subject. I need to think this way in order to attract more people into my fold, because by doing this I am doing more good in the world. I need people to respect that.

People like Daniel Negreanu, my wife and my mother have strong emotional reasons why they give to charities. They have their own reasons behind those choices. They need people to respect that.

Debate is good.

Not enough of us are doing it.

But we do need to be fair and balanced.

If we do that from a standpoint of respect, then I think there are more than enough of us in the world, to offer an olive branch to those that need it most, irrespective of whether that decision comes from the heart, or the head.


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