The "Charitable Giving Index" published today by the NAB (one of Australia's "big four" banks) analysed charitable donations made by credit card, BPAY or EFTPOS. Charities were divided into seven categories, with "Humanitarian Services" charities (such as World Vision, Oxfam and Red Cross) receiving the largest portion of donations (32%), followed by "Community Services and Children/Family", "Other", "Medical Research and Services", "Health and Disability", "Cancer" and "Animals and Environment".
The analysis also looked at the average charity spend per person by their postcode, looking at donations in dollar terms and as percentage of taxable income. The top 10 postcodes (i.e. those with the highest rate of donations as a percentage of taxable income) from my state, Western Australia , donated just 0.13% of their taxable income. This was worse than any other state or territory in Australia. Obviously, there are limitations to the analysis (eg cash donations aren't included nor are donations of time or services) but at face value, we residents of the boom state of WA can do much better.
Reading Peter Singer's book The Life You Can Save in 2009 motivated me to increase my personal charitable donations. Singer argues that we have a moral obligation to help solve world poverty. The premise is that most of us would not walk past a drowning person without trying to save them, but we allow thousands of impoverished people to die through our passivity, when we could save lives by donating a proportion of our income. (The Life You Can Save website offers suggestions as to the proportion of income you should donate, based on your income and country of residence.) Now, whenever I consider a purchase, I think to myself, "Could I do better by donating this money to humanitarian causes?" I'm far from perfect as I could definitely do more, I still have many treats, holidays and frivolous purchases, and I come from the privileged position of having a comfortable income, not having student debts and not having any dependents.
Since reading The Life You Can Save I have donated at least 5% of my income to charity, increasing the amount each year. This includes regular monthly donations to five charities (including Oxfam, MSF, Red Cross, Amnesty and a sponsor child) and one-off donations to other appeals, such as for disaster relief or if an acquaintance is fundraising for a particular cause (such as One Girl's Do It In A Dress). Not all of my donations go to humanitarian causes (some are medical charities such as the Cancer Council). I also donate to arts charities and scholarships at my university but do not include these in my 5% target. Sometimes, I may feel that I'm throwing money at charities to alleviate my First World guilt (or my lack of hands-on contributions to charities) but every bit helps and even one life saved or made more comfortable makes it worthwhile.
I'll do a longer post on The Life You Can Save (and its evidence-based suggestions as to which charities you should donate) in the future but for now will leave you with these reasons why I donate to charity:
- I can improve more lives indirectly through supporting humanitarian charities than I can directly through working as a doctor;
- It is wrong not to; and
- It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.
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