Skepticism and Charity: Do they go hand-in-hand?

Sarah Hinton is a sophomore politics major.

Charity is a beautiful thing. Few things are as affirming of our shared humanity than seeing millions of people from different walks of life come together to help those in need. For example, a hurricane relief fund started by NFL player J.J. Watt received 37 million dollars in donations, all coming from regular people like you and me. But, the fact is, not all charities are the same; some may actually be malicious. As unequivocal and uncontroversial as this statement is, there is still genuine debate as to whether it is appropriate to criticize charities during national disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

It is always appropriate to be critical of organizations that ask people to give based on nothing more than a promise that their money will go to benefit others. Moreover, the desire in each of us to be charitable and help is strongest — and most transparently leveraged by charitable organizations to get funding — during times of disaster such as now. This is when we should be most critical of charitable organizations.


There have many reports of fraudulent activities committed by charities. During the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, the Red Cross, one of the most well-known charities, received half a billion dollars in donations. According to the Red Cross, that money was used to build 130,000 homes. However according to the investigative-journalist nonprofit ProPublica, the Red Cross has only built a grand total of six houses. The Red Cross is not alone. Kids Wish Network, a charity the Tampa Bay Newspaper deemed “America’s Worst Charity,” received millions of dollars under the promise that it would be used to help sick and dying children. A report showed that out of every dollar raised, only three cents went to children. In yet another example, a man named J. T. Reynolds started so many fraudulent charities that the FTC banned Reynolds from ever running a nonprofit again. In these examples, money given to these charities was given by people who just wanted to help. But it turned out their money did little to help the people who needed it most. In a time of calamity, victims can’t afford to have well-meaning people give money to organizations that do not care about the victims in the first place.


It goes without saying: You have a right to — and should — practice due diligence to be sure the resources you’re giving to a particular charity are being applied in an efficient and effective way. But beyond that, you have a responsibility as a member of society to publicly identify those charities that are operating in morally repugnant ways. There is nothing selfish in this act. One must identify these organizations so that others can avoid them and direct their altruism to organizations that are most efficient and morally superior. This scenario is particularly crucial when there is a crisis that is being leveraged by charities to increase their rate of funding. It is too common that one donates to the first charity they see in their haste to help.

Hurricane Irma, helicopter view: Crew members of a U.S. Air Force helicopter rescue victims from the aftermath of the storm. In the midst of the destruction, many still question the legitimacy of charities responsible for disaster aid. Captain Michael O’Hagan/New York Air National Guard

This type of skepticism is not un-Christian, but is fully consistent with the core Jesuit values of helping those less fortunate and learning behaviors that reflect critical thought. Donating to help others exemplifies living our lives for others, and skepticism exemplifies that our shared Jesuit values teach us to do all we can for our fellow humans, and that requires thoroughness. We utilize our critical thinking skills in order to ensure that we are truly doing all we can to help others. If we don’t do proper research on how to best serve our communities we are not acting in accordance to that value of generosity.


It is not selfish or overly-skeptical to question the charities we donate to. We need to promote altruism by making sure as much money as possible goes to the unfortunate.  Luckily, organizations such as the charity watchdog group CharityWatch dedicates themselves to making information about charities public and accessible that way. If people use these resources to scrutinize charities, the next time a disaster strikes, you’ll know which charities actually deserve your money.


Featured Photo: Soldiers rescuing stranded flood victims: While thousands are left to the mercy of charity in the wake of the hurricanes, charities must be effectively vetted. Texas Army National Guard photo.


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