They Only Donate Money

Every so often, when dealing with Church projects and non-profit work in general, one hears someone who does a lot of volunteer work toss off a disparaging remark alone the lines of, “Oh, those people. They only give money. You’d never see them down here working.”

Sometimes this is used to support a claim as to “who really cares” about an issue, along the lines of:

“Sure, you’ll find lots of [members of group X] a pro-life fundraising banquets, but you’ll never see them working at a crisis pregnancy center.”

or

“[Members of group X] may give money to ‘charity’, but you’ll never find them filling boxes down at the foodbank or working with at-risk kids.”

This has always struck me as a somewhat unfair criticism, for reasons I will get into in a minute, but I was particularly reminded of this last week when I had to go down to the diocesan offices to be trained to count and report the collections for the diocesan Catholic Services Appeal. The annual appeal provides a about the third of the operating expenses for the diocese — and since I deal with financial-ish stuff at work and I’m going to be rotating off the pastoral council in a couple months, I half volunteered, half was dragooned, into helping out with the processing of the collection this year at the parish. At the training session, I was particularly struck by the numbers of where the money in the appeal comes from:

There are 108,000 Catholic families registered in the diocese. Of those, 19,000 contribute to the CSA in a typical year. Of those, 2,500 provide 50% of the total money collected. So 2% of the families in the diocese provide 50% of the money collected. Now you might think that this 2% are some pretty rich folks, writing fat checks to the diocese from their vacation cottages. Perhaps a few are, but it’s hardly a rarefied group. To end up in that top 2%, you have to donate $50/mo for ten months to the CSA — $500 for the year. That’s certainly not something that every family can afford, but it’s an amount that most families can afford. And yet only 2% do.

Now certainly, it’s not as if the majority of people go down and spend significant amounts of time volunteering on important charities either. If you provide significant financial support to charities or significant volunteer time, you’re already in a small group. So that brings us back to the question of whether personally volunteering time is somehow worth more in some moral sense than donating money.

In examining that question, I think it’s important to remember what money is: Money is a tool for exchange which represents the ability to obtain goods or services which, in the end, represent the ability to command the work of some other person. How much time you can command with that money depends on the person but, in the end, time is essentially a fungible form of work, and work is essentially time spent doing something which others consider to be desirable or productive.

So in a sense, donating time and donating money are actually exchangeable. This is further complicated by the fact that although all people have roughly the same amount of total time, their amounts of free time and the amount they’re paid for their working time vary. A professional who makes $90k/yr and spends 10-12 hours a day on work and work related activities has fairly little time for volunteering, and if he donates the money he makes for a few hours a week worth of his work to a charity, that money goes a long way. Someone who works part time for $8 a hour, on the other hand, has a lot of free time, but very little money. The amount of money that person could donate based on the same number of hours of working time would do a charitable organization comparatively little good (while taking away a lot of that person’s money.) Given these variances, it may well be that the professional giving a charity the pay he received for five hours worth of his work does the charity much more good (in regards to actually getting their charitable work done) than if he showed up and spent five yours helping out physically.

I don’t want to get overly economistic in all this. Someone whose only charitable activity is writing checks will usually have a more distant experience of charitable action than someone who volunteers in a food pantry or crisis pregnancy center on a weekly basis. It’s going to be hard for someone who _only_ gives money to experience at a human level the fact that the money he’s making for a couple hours during his workday is going to help a particular cause.

At the same time, however, I think it’s important to recognize that donating time is not the only legitimate form of charity, and indeed that for those who make large amounts of money (although at a human level they will benefit from doing charitable work in person themselves at times) it will do a charitable cause more overall good if they donate the product of their labors than if they come and donate the same number of hours in labor onsite instead.

39 Responses to They Only Donate Money

  • Folks who put down charitable people who simply donate money are just jealous snobs who could care less.

    I have often observed this kind of snobbery amongst those people who are more so jealous of the fact that such affluent patrons of a particular parish is capable of donating so much to such charitable causes for the Church, wherein the mere mention of their names seems to inflame a kind of covetousness on their part than anything else.

    All I know is that if it weren’t for their generous donations, so many poor centers within that very diocese and the homeless that depend on these would be found utterly wanting — even worse, their very shelters closed down.

  • DC,

    CSA is only a portion of the giving options that this Catholic has. Myself, I give quite a bit to the Church, and to charitable organizations, but not a thin dime to the diocese or anything it sponsors. I won’t until the chancery and it’s affiliates are cleaned of pro-aborts and cafeteria Catholics and the bishop stands firm for Catholic teaching and liturgical rubrics. Many Catholics are of the same mind as me on this.

    Another note on this question of volunteering vs. financial donation. I don’t think we are called to “volunteer” but we are called to care for the less fortunate. This can be financial in part, but MUST involve direct charitable work, face to face with those we are aiding. Writing a check, or stuffing boxes, or working on a committee do not replace direct acts of Charity.

  • Excellent point.

  • Matt,

    Leaving aside the merits of donating to one’s diocese, the CSA donation rate ties pretty well with what I’ve seen of how things work at the parish level too. At our parish, there are 3500 registered families, but only about 10% of those turn in any collection envelopes during a given month. Clearly, some people give without using envelopes, but give that the total weekly collections divided by the number of envelope users works out to <$50, it's pretty clear that again there's a minority of people providing the vast majority of the money — and not necessarily because they're writing vast checks.

  • So in a sense, donating time and donating money are actually exchangeable. This is further complicated by the fact that although all people have roughly the same amount of total time, their amounts of free time and the amount they’re paid for their working time vary. A professional who makes $90k/yr and spends 10-12 hours a day on work and work related activities has fairly little time for volunteering, and if he donates the money he makes for a few hours a week worth of his work to a charity, that money goes a long way. Someone who works part time for $8 a hour, on the other hand, has a lot of free time, but very little money. The amount of money that person could donate based on the same number of hours of working time would do a charitable organization comparatively little good (while taking away a lot of that person’s money.) Given these variances, it may well be that the professional giving a charity the pay he received for five hours worth of his work does the charity much more good (in regards to actually getting their charitable work done) than if he showed up and spent five yours helping out physically.

    Given how fungible time and money can be, you might also think of it this way:

    The generous money donated by a wealthy patron (e.g., $20,000) to Church can represent time devoted at work that was actually dedicated (i.e., volunteered) for that charitable cause (i.e., all those billable hours that comes to $20,000).

  • If I were to speculate, which I never fear doing, I imagine a lot of big hitters are contacted personally by the diocese and send the checks directly. It’s kind of annoying, but $100,000 is a lot of money, and there are people that can write those kinds of checks, and yet you have folks who want the bishops to play St. Athanasius on them. Obviously the rich can’t just get what they want, but a lot of budgets can be busted by angering the wrong people.

  • This is a great discussion. As a self-employed individual time away from my business costs me more than writing a check and if there is no margin, there is no mission.

    As e., pointed out, the money that I donate from my efforts in my for-profit business takes time to earn, that time is essentially being donated. Yet, the money costs me less than the time. Meaning if I were to devote time instead of money, I would earn considerably less and therefore my next donation would also be smaller. Most of my business activities (time) are not direct revenue generators (money) but they do build up to the generation of revenue and it is the increase in that revenue that allows me to donate more.

    Another point is that charity comes from Charity, Caritas, Love. It doesn’t mean feeding the hungry in a soup kitchen with my own hands or paying for the soup that another feeds them with only. Primarily it means loving others as Christ loves them out of love for Him. It is incumbent on us to love our employees, bosses, co-workers, clients and others and not necessarily because they are less fortunte but becuase they are human.

    Being remunerated for your efforts is good, maximizing your profit and ability to donate is good, loving eveyone, especially Christ while doing it is great!

  • As e., pointed out, the money that I donate from my efforts in my for-profit business takes time to earn, that time is essentially being donated.

    That’s something these folks seem incapable of deciphering.

    I myself might not be such a patron; however, it doesn’t take a genius to grasp the fact that the total dollar figure donated basically amounts to all those hours spent at work by the individual to make that money; hence, consider all those hours as virtually being volunteered to that charitable cause.

  • MZ,

    If I were to speculate, which I never fear doing, I imagine a lot of big hitters are contacted personally by the diocese and send the checks directly.

    In this case, the people who are writing $100,000 checks are included in that 2,500 people who are responsible for 50% of the collections. They are contacted directly by the diocese before the standard collection and invited to one of the regional receptions with the bishop (or at the moment, with the interim), but they’re given pledge cards to fill out as part of the main campaign so that their donations can be tracked back to the parish and the parish gets “credit”.

    That’s actually how I got into asking about the details of this 2500 households, because I was shocked to discover that I was part of the “big givers” group despite having given less than $1000 in the last annual appeal.

    Diocesan funding in the Austin diocese apparently comes in roughly equal thirds from 1) the annual CSA appeal, 2) the “tax” which all parishes send to the diocese — a portion of all their own collections, and 3) other. I would imagine there _is_ some big giver stuff going on separately in that “other” category, as well as fees for various diocesan programs, etc., but that’s separate from the whole CSA set of numbers I was discussing above.

  • This is good stuff, DarwinCatholic.
    A couple of thoughts: first, I volunteer with a number of organizations. In many cases, I am working on a board or similar administrative type responsibilities. Does that make my work less valuable, less worthy than if I was doing something face to face with an individual being served? I don’t think so.

    We each have different gifts. My gifts may allow me to serve 1,000 people, but, perhaps, not as intensely, not having as much recognizable effect, as someone whose gifts can serve 5 people but much more directly. On the other hand, my gifts may serve fewer people than someone else’s can serve, but, again, their service may not provide as much effect on a per person basis, even if their contribution (hours or dollars) is much more than mine.

    Second, there is a real trade off for the organization between hours of personal service and money. What I have seen over and over among volunteer organizations is that they start out with enthusiastic volunteers trying to make a difference in some area of interest to them. As they become more successful, the hours that the need demands tend to increase exponentially. The volunteers get burned out and the organization shrinks, or more volunteers are brought in. But that is self limiting, because there are only so many people out there with time available (and an interest in this organization’s goals, as opposed to something else’s). The only realistic alternative for the group to continue and to improve their service, to serve more people, is to professionalize. Paid staff.
    Frequently, these organizations have a difficult time adjusting to paid staff doing things that the volunteers used to do. Maybe there is now one paid staff person, an “executive director.” Lots of whining by the volunteers about how they wouldn’t have done things the way that new person is doing them. “All they’re looking for is the paycheck.” And so forth, while the executive director may sniff about how ineffective things are with the grunts doing so much of the work, “they aren’t here when we need them,” etc. But big needs require big organizations, if you truly want to have an effect, rather than just feel good about your personal heroic efforts. And the big organizations need full time people and that means that they need to raise money, not get five people to come down and mop out the warehouse, or whatever.

    Third, I give to a number of causes, Catholic and otherwise, but I also choose not to give to an even larger number of other organizations, Catholic and otherwise. So the people at the latter groups, volunteers or paid staff, can look down their noses at me for not supporting their worthy group. Sorry, there’s only so much time in my day and so many dollars in my pocket, even if I have more dollars than most people. I would submit that “you’re not doing enough” is an unchariable statement, whether made directly, made indirectly or only thought. How much I do and for whom is between me and God.

  • As e., pointed out, the money that I donate from my efforts in my for-profit business takes time to earn, that time is essentially being donated.

    Exactly.

    The only difference I would see, is that (at least for me) it can be hard to keep in mind “and this is the percentage of each day when I’m working for my parish instead of my own bank account; and this is the time when I’m working for the crisis pregnancy center; and this is the time when I’m working for the monestary; etc”. Work pretty much feels like work to me, even if I’m aware at a certain level that I’m supporting not only my family but a raft of other things too.

    But overall, as I wrote, I think getting all worked up about the difference between giving time and giving money is out of place.

  • Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.

    It is good that you cannot count how much time you spent ‘donating’ — just do it. It isn’t our time and it isn’t our money. It all belongs to God, we simply get to use it for good or ill while we are in the Valley of Tears.

    I think the key point here is that we are all called to be Charitable and what that means for each of us is something different. Our part is in being receptive to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to know what we should, and should not do. So long as we don’t bury, waste, our talents.

  • Isn’t almsgiving a work of mercy?

  • Phillip,

    In the lean months it sure feels like it. :)

  • Not all volunteering is of the same net value, either, if we’re looking at dollars– I notice the folks who like to sniff about people “only” give money tend to have a lot of time on their hands, yes, but they’re also unskilled volunteers. (and stay that way)

    A trained carpenter’s five hours working on some old widows’ houses during a slow season is more “value” than Random Burger Flipper High School Kid #4 doing yard work for the same folks for ten hours, and the lawyer who has no time to offer but rented the van and bought the materials that they’re using for repairs and clean-up probably has a higher cash input.
    If they’re all doing it because they want to help older folks– that is, out of love– it’s rather unseemly for any of ‘em to sneer at the others.

  • It seems to me that the point is being missed here. True Charity involves a giving of oneself, giving love. It is not just one’s “hours” or “cash”, and there aren’t any equations for it. If none of your charitable work involves direct contact with those you are trying to help, how could it be love?

    Charity is not just about seeing to material needs anyway, we must provide comfort, the kind of comfort that only comes from a friendly, face to face meeting. We can’t just hire people to do this for us.

  • If none of your charitable work involves direct contact with those you are trying to help, how could it be love?

    I’ll be sure to tell this to one particular person at a charity who practically volunteers all her time (at even the expense of time with her family) seeking out patrons to support it, so that all the homeless and battered women the charity supports could be accomodated as opposed to ever having direct contact with those folks directly.

    Or perhaps I’ll tell the same to an elderly person who happens to volunteer her time as secretary at the charity, who herself never actually has any actual contact with such homeless people. She probably just does so not in order to help these people (how can that be? she doesn’t even have contact with these people!), but to mock their existence!

    What cruel, selfish people! These are obviously devoid of love!

    In other words, for somebody who claims that there aren’t any actual equations for ‘True Charity’, you sure got some nerve to pronounce judgment on those folks who charitably donate their time/money to causes that actually help people.

  • Perhaps the example of the widow giving a penny to the temple? Christ saw love there.

  • e.,

    this is really not a personal issue, so don’t go getting all defensive and irrational.

    I didn’t pronounce judgment (an odd accusation coming from the likes of you).

    Ask those people you’re talking about if they never meet the people they help face to face, or do other acts of charity directly, I’m sure you’ll find that they are not so sheltered as your feigning on their behalf here.

  • You didn’t pronounce judgment?

    You essentially declared that it couldn’t possibly be love unless there was direct, face-to-face contact!

    You basically condemned these folks, judging these people who, although having charitably volunteered all their time at the charity, weren’t actually doing so out of love!

    How dare you!

    That elderly woman who basically volunteers most her time at the charity as a secretary isn’t much less a contribution, or even worse, should be judged as utterly devoid of “love”, simply for the fact that she’s never even had direct, face-to-face contact with those homeless people that the charity actually helps!

    Next time I see her, I’ll make sure to relay the truths of your Gospel:

    “What are you doing? None of your supposedly ‘charitable’ work involves direct contact with those people and, therefore, your contributions aren’t based on love!”

    And then show her the door!

  • e.,

    get lost.

  • The Gospel According to Matt declares:

    “If none of your charitable work involves direct contact with those you are trying to help, how could it be love?”

    You were the one who made “direct contact” a prerequisite to ‘True Charity’ and that anything that doesn’t (including the elderly woman who simply volunteers her time at the charity as a mere secretary) couldn’t possibly be considered as such and, worse, not even based on ‘Love’.

  • Matt,

    I hope you can understand why I find what you said not only disturbingly wrong but also quite twisted.

    That elderly person has never laid eyes on those folks face-to-face, but I can tell you she loves them regardless, or else why would she volunteer most of her time at the charity’s headquarters?

    I can assure you: it is out of profound love that she actually does so!

  • e. & Matt,

    I think you’ve both made your points clear — and both have some validity — but please avoid rancor of I’ll have to shut things down.

  • Whenever I hear the “you only give money,” argument I think,”Okay, let’s see how you get without my check or Bob’s or Mary’s or Todd’s?” It’s nice to hand out sandwiches to the street people but somebody had to buy that bread and peanut butter.

  • Matt,
    Your requirement for personal contact is grounded in the notion that love is an emotion. It is not. It is a decision. We are all called to love those we have not met.

  • The rather virulent over-reactions to the suggestion that if you love someone you might want to ACTUALLY SEE THEM IN PERSON suggests to me a twinge of guilt perhaps of being isolated from the destitute.

    I will post the works of mercy here which may be instructive in the way that they are worded:

    The corporal woks of mercy are
    * To feed the hungry;
    * To give drink to the thirsty;
    * To clothe the naked;
    * To harbour the harbourless;
    * To visit the sick;
    * To ransom the captive;
    * To bury the dead.

    The spiritual works of mercy are:

    * To instruct the ignorant;
    * To counsel the doubtful;
    * To admonish sinners;
    * To bear wrongs patiently;
    * To forgive offences willingly;
    * To comfort the afflicted;
    * To pray for the living and the dead.

    A number of these works explicitly demand being the face of Christ for those in need, but the others imply such a personal connection that it seems to me an error to suggest that all human contact in Charity could be dispensed by temporal work on behalf of Charitable cause or financial donation thereto.

    It seems to me that working in isolation from those in need, leaving the face to face to those paid professionals best able to deal with such “horrors” yields an almost bureaucratic result, as is clearly the case with Catholic Charities in many places. The resulting corruption is devastating.

    Now, let’s be calm, I am in no way condemning to Hell some old woman who works hard for the poor but doesn’t have the opportunity to see them. I’m sure SHE recognizes the need for direct acts of mercy and performs them daily to those who she does encounter even if she’s not so crass as to list them for you.

    Mike,

    love is an action, not merely a decision. You completely misunderstand my point if you think it’s rooted in the false notion of emotion.

    dymphna,

    I’m sorry, the most important element of charitable works is not material and so can not be fulfilled simply by writing a check. Frankly, if all of the large aid organizations that live on cash were gone, and charity began an ended in the parish hall with donated food and clothing distributed by those who sacrificed to provide them it would be, I think a much greater blessing, especially when dealing with the needs of those in our own communities. That certainly resembles more closely how Christians became known for their love.

    I’ll say it again to avoid repeated intentional misrepresentations… it is ALSO important for us to provide out of our wealth, and that should not be written off as useless has others have tried to suggest I was implying.

  • out damn italics.

  • Matt,
    The twinge of guilt that you perceive is the result of unfair, unChristian, and self-ighteous inferential liberties. You have no idea how your works of mercy, however defined, stack up to others here, and you won’t since only a jerk would discuss them with you.

  • The rather virulent over-reactions to the suggestion that if you love someone you might want to ACTUALLY SEE THEM IN PERSON suggests to me a twinge of guilt perhaps of being isolated from the destitute.

    The characterization of folks’ unfavorable response to the statement “If none of your charitable work involves direct contact with those you are trying to help, how could it be love?” suggests ya might be dealing with a bit of guilt yourself.

    For a very simple example, I know that the care packages I got when I was on the Essex touched me deeply, and that the folks who donated the cash to make them, the folks who carefully designed what went into each one so that there was variety but also good coverage of needs, and the folks who physically packed the boxes were all showing love for sailors like me– none of them had any physical contact with me.

  • Another example: cleaning up a common area when you’re done is showing care for the folks who will come after you– does anyone doubt that leaving a stinking pile of garbage and trash spread all around demonstrates a lack of care for those who will come after you? Even if you never see them face to face?

    The old “China Man Experiment”– I can’t remember the exact story, but a researcher told folks that if they pushed a button in a booth, it would kill a man in China, but they’d get some kind of small possible improvement, and nobody would know what they’d chosen to do; the researcher then kept track of how many people pushed the button.
    Anyone doubt that folks who believed they were killing a man, but did it anyways for some small benefit, were showing a lack of love?

  • Mike,

    The twinge of guilt that you perceive is the result of unfair, unChristian, and self-ighteous inferential liberties. You have no idea how your works of mercy, however defined, stack up to others here, and you won’t since only a jerk would discuss them with you.

    I think you’re proving my point by slanderous reaction. I made no claims about the quantity or kind of MY works of mercy or how they may stack up to yours or those of anyone else. I did not make this personal, it is an intellectual discussion. I’d be very happy to see you counter argue.

    Foxfier,

    The characterization of folks’ unfavorable response to the statement “If none of your charitable work involves direct contact with those you are trying to help, how could it be love?” suggests ya might be dealing with a bit of guilt yourself.

    I need only to point out Mike’s tirade above as ample evidence of the accuracy of my characterization.

    For a very simple example, I know that the care packages I got when I was on the Essex touched me deeply, and that the folks who donated the cash to make them, the folks who carefully designed what went into each one so that there was variety but also good coverage of needs, and the folks who physically packed the boxes were all showing love for sailors like me– none of them had any physical contact with me.

    I sincerely appreciate your service on board the Essex.

    I don’t know how things were there in terms of supply, but the months I spent in isolated army camps there was really no shortage of material goods, I truly believe what raised our spirits was the love with which those care packages where prepared, not the physical contents (though a pound cake or batch of 4 week old cookies can taste mighty good when you’re a week on IMP’s or MRE’s as they are known in the US).

    This is all very good and true, but it doesn’t respond to my point. I’m not saying that efforts which lack direct contact can’t be deeply appreciated, helpful, or even lifesaving. Only that if ALL OF YOUR WORKS OF MERCY are intentionally in isolation from those you seek to help because you LOVE them it is not a good thing. I would also suggest that the folks funding and preparing those packages NEVER missed an opportunity to cheer the Essex when she came to port, or the returning soldiers marching though town. I suspect they are the same ones who thank every servicemen they see carrying a rucksack through the airport bound for or returing from the Middle East or Central Asia.

    I will concede that there are certain things which go beyond the material even if done in isolation. Knitting sweaters, baking, writing cards and letters and perhaps carefully selecting comfort items for a distant stranger standing guard for example, I believe have a special way of reaching across the distance in a way that writing a check, or doing most forms of work do not.

    I wanted to point out regarding the word “almsgiving”, alms means “mercy” not “money”.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01328f.htm

    It seems to me that virtually all the references to the Christian duty of alms-giving speak of serving the poor and acting directly, while very few imply any sort of detached assistance. I refer again to my above citation of the acknowledged corporal and spiritual works of mercy, there is a clear focus on personal acts, though not exclusively.

  • Matt McDonald-
    Nobody is debating the meaning of “almsgiving”– it was only mentioned once before your statement, and yet the very first sentence of your link supports the broader definition that the OP suggests: Any material favour done to assist the needy, and prompted by charity, is almsgiving.

    The habit of people to puff themselves up, because their act of charity is in a different and more public form, is not supported by your link.

    Simple reason tells us: what good is it to offer your time to hand a sandwich to the poor, if there is no bread, meat or cheese with which to make a sandwich?

  • Matt,
    When you accuse others of acting or reacting out of guilt you ARE making it personal. To pretend otherwise is hardly in keeping with an intellectual discussion.

  • Matt,

    You’re really something.

    I take it that all those people donating money to help sick & impoverished 3rd world children, who they haven’t even seen face-to-face and met personally, are but fiends who do so not out of any wholesome Christian goodness, and not even based on *True Charity* or even *Real Love*.

    Amazing.

  • e.,

    what did i say that would support such an absurd notion? See my post about twinges of guilt.

  • On this related subject, since I heard it on Drew Mariani, Relevant Radio last week about CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development), it seems we’ve got to be careful in donating to them. I see they cut off ACORN funds last year: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0805268.htm . People to be wary of and become informed about: http://www.usccb.org/cchd/ though I don’t mean to demean them, I know this subject has probably been talked about before. Sure, I give to CRS and would be hesitant about CCHD.

  • Matt,

    That absurd notion came from your absurd statement:

    If none of your charitable work involves direct contact with those you are trying to help, how could it be love?

    which was subsequently followed up by what was largely an attempt of justifying it:

    The rather virulent over-reactions to the suggestion that if you love someone you might want to ACTUALLY SEE THEM IN PERSON

    If anybody here has cornered the market on absurdity, it is you.

  • I think that all that ought to be said has probably be said at this point, and then a couple. I’m closing comments.

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