Monday, December 22, 2008

Passing the Virtual Hat

In a season traditionally associated with giving, National Public Radio ran two stories about how online services are supposedly fostering personal generosity: "For Those In Need, An Online Helping Hand" and "How To Use Technology To Donate To Charities."

As someone who has been both a meal/childcare donor and a meal/childcare recipient in response to hospitalization for a serious illness, I can appreciate the logistical advantages of using a service like Lotsa Helping Hands that coordinates family, friends, and church and community members who want to bring a meal or do a kid pick-up when a mother is out of commission or find out how treatment and recovery is progressing without bothering loved ones.

The second NPR piece mentioned the work of, which allows charitable giving to target particular small-scale projects, such as school supplies for classrooms in low-income public schools, like the one for which Bronx happenings impressario and my friend of many decades Mitsu Hadeishi is growing a mustache.

(Mitsu and I go way back to the days of programming in BASIC on TRS-80s in middle school and hanging out in Cal Tech's Tournament Park, so please consider donating to his cause.)

I suppose that my main reservation about this kind of point-and-click donation is that I think responsible charity is about understanding problems as well as giving generously, and to some degree this involves understanding constraints. In other words, in community-based face-to-face giving situations, you learn the importance of the strings that are attached. For example, a large toy or one with many pieces isn't always appreciated if a child is homeless. Many households below the poverty line don't have stoves and so food that can be heated with a microwave or hot plate may be more usable. A donation of books to a half-way house shouldn't assume a college (or even high school) reading level. And the Salvation Army isn't there just to haul away your junk: goods need to be not just repairable but also salable. Of course, often it is procedures and rules that create crises as well, but whether it is Christmas bicycles or an XO laptop, it can be important to understand why some gifts aren't wanted as well.

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Blogger bob c said...

The point made here is a good one, as far as it goes. The need to understand the kind of help one gives extends beyond the act. Tailoring giving past a one size fits all, so to speak, would seem to be a good idea always as it serves to educate the giver as well as being more useful to the givee. The on-line usefulness may increase quantity, but quality must not be overlooked, in any case, just to give ourselves kudos. The responsabilty for good charity or help requires both sides of the act to know and articulate desires and posabilities.

8:27 PM  

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