House of peanut notes in her recent review of All the money in the world that her reasons for giving to charity are different than the ones in Vanderkam’s book.
Vanderkam, she says, talks about the “selfish joy” that giving gives to people. However, house of peanut “couldn’t relate to the idea of getting personal satisfaction or pleasure out of giving to charity.”
Instead, house of peanut says she gives to charity because it is the “right thing to do.”
Economists have many theories for why people give to charity. From my reading of the Vanderkam chapter, she subscribes to the “warm glow” theory of charitable giving. In this theory, people give to charity because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy to do so.
Another theory is altruism– that people want a specific level of public goods to be provided, and if they government isn’t providing, then they step up. (Under this theory, people would *prefer* taxes to charitable giving, because charitable goods are under-provided because of the free-rider problem, but in reality, they don’t tend to prefer taxes.)
Prestige is another theory– people give because they want people to know that they give because it makes them feel superior. Related to this idea is one of social cohesion– you give because it provides a sense of community with other people interested in that cause. Giving greases social wheels, so to speak.
Yet another theory is one in which people give because they expect something back. This idea is part of “social insurance”. The idea is that if you give to your church when times are good, they will give back to you when times are bad.
And, of course, there’s giving because it provides power and helps you shape agendas. You can see a lot of that this year with the SuperPACs funding campaign ads and controlling local elections from a national scale.
There are many many other theories of charitable giving, not just from economics but from other social science disciplines. We haven’t nailed this one down yet, though there is ample evidence for the “warm glow” theory and not so much for pure altruism. But in reality the reasons are probably multi-faceted.
I give to charity for several reasons:
1. I’m a soft touch when it comes to stories about hungry kids or kids not getting education or kitties not having homes. Giving money helps the crying stop (is that feeling warm glow?)
2. Sometimes our donations actually make a difference (see local private school)
3. Sometimes donating is in our best selfish interest (see: donating to alma mater to get USNews rating up, donating to DC’s class to get extra activities)
Update: eemusings with her reasons.
If you give, why do you give?