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December 22nd, 2009

Do Motives Matter When You’re Giving to Charity?



The discussion of moral obligation in the realm of finance doesn’t really enter into the general discussion on this blog all that often. Yet, it did in fact just the other week when we addressed the topic of walk aways, or strategic defaults, in our post titled “Walking Away from Your Mortgage: Emotion or Logic?

The post highlighted both sides of the walk away argument: on one hand, the decision by some borrowers to walk away from their loan was made because it made the most sense financially. On the other hand, there’s a strong opinion that borrowers have a moral obligation to honor their contract by staying in their homes.

With the holiday season in full swing, many shoppers may not only be looking to buy for their friends and family, but many may also want to give a charitable donation — whether that’s dropping off a toy at Toys “R” Us for Toys For Tots, or donating to the Make A Wish Foundation at Macy’s.

On NPR.org this morning, I found an interesting article titled “‘Selfish’ Giving: Does It Count If You Get In Return?” The experts say that the corporations that are engaged in charitable giving stand to benefit the most (financially) over the holidays. And thus the debate ensues: Is charitable giving still charitable if you’re doing it for, perhaps, the wrong reasons?

“Companies engaged in social issues have gained tremendous benefits,” says Carol Cone, the chairwoman and founder of Cone Inc. who is considered by many to be the mother of cause marketing. “It’s absolutely magic.”

These days, she says, companies have to be seen as giving in order to succeed.

“Businesses must show their humanity,” she says. “It’s no longer a ‘nice to do’ — it’s a ‘have to do.’ ”

It’s a little like high school kids signing up for their community service trip — the summer before their college applications are due. It’s simply what they have to do to be competitive.

Experts call it “selfish giving” — when givers are looking to get back more than just the joy of giving. But where do you draw the line? When givers are giving in order to sell more lattes or enhance their resumes, is it a win-win — or is something else lost?

However, not everyone is of the opinion that something is lost. If the bottom line is that the less-fortunate are still receiving donations, isn’t that what really matters?

“This is not one of those places where you stand on principle, where you say, ‘Oh! If it’s not from the heart only, don’t do it!’ ” says Kevin McCall, president and CEO of Paradigm Properties, a real estate development company in Boston that is involved in philanthropy and community service. “My attitude is, if the net benefit to society is positive, go for it!”

I know this subject is a little off the beaten path from what we usually cover on this blog, but we got some great responses of differing opinions on the walk away post, so I thought we’d give the moral debate another shot.

It must be noted that, without speaking to any of the corporations involved in the charitable programs mentioned in the NPR article, we don’t know their true motives or intentions. The bottom line is that, according to the NPR article, businesses tend to rake in more over the holidays when they’re involved in charitable giving.

So what do you say? Is this a moral grey area — are these businesses giving in order to get? Do motives matter when you’re giving to charity?

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2 Responses to “Do Motives Matter When You’re Giving to Charity?”

  1. Mitch Says: December 31st, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    I’m of the opinion that you give for whatever reason you give, and if it helps someone then it’s all good. I hate those sanctimonious organizations that decide they’re not going to accept money from groups they might not think are up to their level if those groups haven’t really done anything wrong. The idea is to help whomever can be helped, plain and simple.

  2. Tim Manni Says: January 4th, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I can agree with that!

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HSH.com's daily blog focuses on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets. Our mission is to relate how changes in mortgage rates and housing policy, as well as the latest financial news, impacts consumers, homebuyers and industry insiders alike. Our 30-plus years of experience in the mortgage industry gives us an edge as we break down the latest changes in an ever-changing market.

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Tim Manni is the Managing Editor of HSH.com and the author of their daily blog, which concentrates on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets.

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