Symptom-chasing charities

Published 7:36 pm Monday, September 2, 2013

By Joseph L. Bass

Is it possible for a charity to spend large amounts of money without accomplishing anything positive? Do Americans consider what good is being done with all the money we donate to charities? Let us think about that.

Americans donate huge sums of money to charities. Eighty-eight percent of American homes give to charity. The average annual household contribution is about $2,200. Americans gave $298.3 billion in 2011. That’s a lot of money. But how much good is done with it? I suspect not much, given the approaches taken by most charities, particularly those attempting to overcome social problems.


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Charities attempt to address a variety of conditions, mostly related to the poor in America and other nations. These conditions include poverty, lack of education, lack of good health, lack of food and more. From my point of view these conditions are the symptoms of problems, not the real problems. Therefore most money spent by charities chases after the symptoms of problems, instead of identifying and addressing the problems that cause the symptoms.

Consider the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts. Their motto is “We believe every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life.” That’s a nice, catchy motto, but how does their foundation go about attempting to help people have a chance to live healthy and productive lives?

One of the foundation’s priority efforts involves combating malaria through the distribution of mosquito netting. The strategy is that people will be healthier if they have mosquito netting, which may be true. But this avoids a host of important questions.

If people are healthier, will they automatically become productive? If people are healthier, will they automatically be able to make more money and purchase their own mosquito netting? Are there social, economic or governmental conditions that retard people’s capabilities to get an education, become employed, make their own money and purchase their own mosquito netting? What good is people being healthier if they have no better chance of living productive lives?

Most charitable giving focus on the symptoms of social problems and ignores the structural factors that cause the real problems. Nearly all nations are structured so that a small percentage of the population controls the government and economy for its personal benefit. Little money is spent on development of the poor, who represent a large percentage of the population. Little money and government effort is directed to education, resulting in a poor, uneducated population that works for low wages to benefit the rich few.

In their giving, people might consider charitable efforts that address the conditions that cause the negative social conditions, instead of giving to those that chase after the symptoms.

Americans donate large sums to charities that attempt to address poverty, hunger and low educational achievement. But it is almost impossible to secure donations to charities that attempt to address the basic causes of negative social conditions.

Shouldn’t Americans consider what good is being done with all the money we donate to charities and give to those that attempt to address the core social problems that exist throughout the world?

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at