5 Popular Forms of Charity (That Aren't Helping)

Giving to charity is one of the most selfless things you can do. You're giving away your hard-earned money and expecting nothing in return, save the personal satisfaction of making the world just a little bit better (and the unquantifiable moral superiority you get to feel for a while). It's easy, too -- literally all you need is whatever cash you can spare and a tiny bit of awareness as to who you're going to give it to.

So by all means, do it. Just please, please avoid messing it all up with one of these mistakes.

#5. Most Awareness Campaigns Are a Waste of Time

What You Think You Do

By wearing a Livestrong bracelet or a pink ribbon, or perhaps growing a mustache for Movember, you're doing important work by drawing the public's attention to an issue that needs support. It's the ultimate in everyday do-goodery -- easy, cheap, fun, and works like a charm.

Why You Shouldn't Do It

Sure, awareness campaigns are great ... if they're for an obscure yet noteworthy issue that needs publicity. However, that is rarely the case -- most of them focus on well-known problems that are most likely to gain media space and public attention.

Take breast cancer: Despite the many, many, many awareness campaigns thrown at us by everyone from our co-workers to goddamn KFC, breast cancer death rates have stayed steady over the last decade.

Via Independent
You can't get breast cancer if you die of a heart attack. Charity!

The reason behind this is three-pronged:

One, it's breast cancer. An awareness campaign for breast cancer was vital in, say, the '60s and '70s, when words like "breast cancer" were never even uttered in public (let alone plugged during an NFL game). Today, however, everyone is aware of its existence, and there are maybe three women in America who don't know that they should be checking their breasts every once in a while. This means that all those campaigns are telling you things you already know full well, to the point that your brain is just starting to tune them out.

Two: Not only are most awareness campaigns useless, they often actually harm their cause by misrepresenting the very problem they're trying to fight. Many breast cancer campaigns focus on how sexy boobs are, with clever slogans like "I grab a feel so cancer can't steal." Ignoring how weird it is that a bunch of men clearly sat around a board room and brainstormed ways to make their anti-cancer campaign sexy ("I want our audience to be like 'Finally, a cancer I can fuck'"), it's also not helping. The young, perky women wearing a "save second base" shirt who are often closely associated with these campaigns are in fact among the least likely to get cancer. The more probable victims are in fact their grandmas, who tend to be pretty much ignored in these campaigns for the very simple reason of, well, granny boobs. The real tragedy is glossed over, which you may recognize as being the exact opposite of awareness.

Via Zazzle.ca
Though to be fair, "Stop a tragedy, feel up the elderly" just isn't as catchy.

So now when Breast Cancer Awareness month rolls around, we're thinking about pink shoes in the NFL, or pink buckets of KFC chicken, or hot college chicks with boob-related T-shirts, but never are we thinking about actual cancer victims.

The third, and by far the worst, issue is that participation in awareness campaigns makes people less likely to give actual money. Studies have found that people who do a good deed will use that as an excuse to cut back on other good behavior, so if you go out and get wasted on breast cancer vodka, you won't feel obligated to donate cold, hard cash. Why should you? You've already done your part!

Getty
"We're saving the world through body shots!"

#4. Donating Clothing

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What You Think You Do

If times are tough and you don't have money to spare, you can at least give your used clothing to charity. Every little bit helps!

Why You Shouldn't Do It

Our donations put local suppliers out of business.

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It's kind of hard to even have a liquidation sale at that point, unless you're paying the customers to take the product.

Being able to change the world just by cleaning out our closets is a nice thought, but also a massive misunderstanding of what developing countries actually need or, for that matter, want.

It's actually not hard to get clothes in the developing world. Africans don't have to dodge landmines and fight lions every time they go to the market for some new pants. They just stroll up to a vendor and buy them, the exact same way it works everywhere else on the planet.

Many of us tend to ignore the fact that textiles used to be a major industry in many developing countries. Used to, that is, until it collapsed under the weight of tons of ratty sweatshirts and pieces of NFL merchandise featuring teams that lost the Super Bowl. One study concluded that charitable donations caused the clothing industry across Africa to suffer a 40 percent decline in production and a 50 percent jump in unemployment from 1981 to 2000.

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"It looks like my only options are UNICEF commercials or helping unload clothing donations."

Essentially, offering these people free clothing winds up as a pretty nasty, backhanded insult: "Hey, guy who used to make shirts for a living until our free clothes drove you out of business -- care for a Patriots hoodie?"

Even putting accidental annihilation of industries aside, the used clothes way of helping is also a horribly inefficient waste of money. The rules of hauling shit from country to country apply to these useless garments the exact same way they do to everything else: Every piece of clothing has to be stored, shipped, taxed and distributed. This eats up a huge amount of time and funds that could and probably should be going toward, say, medicinal aid. But, again, the people who dump a box of shirts on Africa aren't going to donate any money because, like the people who purchase a pink breast cancer sticker, they've already fulfilled their charitable obligation on their end, and they've already earned their "moral credits."

But hey, at least the polio patients will look good in their almost new Right Said Fred shirts.

Via Huffington Post
"I'm really sorry about putting your parents out of work, but you have to understand that this is a great photo op."

#3. Choosing Your Charity Based on Its Overhead

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What You Think You Do

People like to know that their donations are going to help people, and not going toward paying for lunch for the employees of the charity. By only donating to charities with low administrative costs -- basically anything that isn't actual aid -- you're guaranteeing that your money goes to proper charity work, instead of salaries and whatnot. This is a very common piece of advice given to people looking for a good charity, and a seemingly good one at that -- why pay for office supplies when there are people in need?

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"Each of those pens could have fed a Guatemalan villager for six years."

Why You Shouldn't Do It

Because they need those supplies to operate efficiently.

Picture your own workplace. Which would help you do a better job: modern equipment, contemporary training and competent employees -- or a bunch of random hippies your boss pulled off the street, all of you sharing a single Amstrad 286 with a Cyrillic keyboard?

And that's just a regular job, crunching numbers at the office. Now imagine the same scenario, only you're tasked with handling the aftermath of Cthulhu attacking New York.

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"Wait, I was supposed to give you a malaria vaccine? Oh man, I'm really sorry."

Overhead numbers are almost meaningless. Each charity calculates them differently, and many do it incorrectly. Most importantly, they fail to factor in what the charity actually does.

Take Invisible Children, the charity behind the Kony 2012 video. They received a lot of criticism for having an abnormally high overhead. However, few people noticed that Invisible Children actually has better financial ratings than major players like UNICEF and the Red Cross. So the problem was never that they were being inefficient with money -- it was that they spent all of their well-managed funds on a half-hour guilt trip and a bunch of tacky posters.

Via Cmcforum.com
"When he sees all the posters we put up thousands of miles away from him, he'll have to surrender!"

Kony madness notwithstanding, charities with higher overhead are generally better than their penny-pinching counterparts because of that simplest of business facts: You have to spend money to make money. The same principle applies to building schools, feeding and housing disaster victims, neutering kittens or whatever else a charity might deem charitable.

And when we unwisely favor charities with low overhead, we're actually encouraging them to cut corners. They'll hire unqualified people, run cheaper but unhelpful programs or just flat-out lie about their finances. All of this results in less useful aid -- exactly what analyzing administrative expenses is supposed to avoid.

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"Oh, this? It was ... it was a gift. A gift from the children we've helped with our fine, honest charity."

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