Charity – Effective altruism or Guilt?

Mohamedarif-Mohamed-SulemanMohamedarif Mohamed Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) is a digital marketing specialist and an Educator-cum-Trainer. He has involved himself in community organisations and matters from a young age, and through his writings, continues to speak of social and cultural reform to this day. He is also the founding moderator of this forum.



eing charitable means giving to others who are in need, whether it is through money, time, goods, or services. It is a noble and generous act that can benefit both the giver and the receiver. However, being charitable is not always easy or straightforward. There are many challenges and dilemmas that people face when they decide to be charitable. In this essay, I will discuss some of these challenges and how they can be overcome.

“People’s real reasons for reaching their practical conclusions are so often not the ones they give in their arguments.”
Janet Radcliffe Richards

“To avoid what David Hume called the “vulgar error” of “putting nothing but nonsense into the Mouth of the Adversary” we should employ the principle of charity. This requires us to consider the best, strongest version of an opponent’s argument, not only the worst. This may be a better case than they themselves can muster.”Julian Baggini

What this means is that people often have hidden or unconscious motives for their beliefs and actions, which they do not reveal or acknowledge in their arguments. Instead, they use rationalisations or justifications that may sound more plausible or acceptable to themselves or others but do not reflect the true reasons behind their choices. For example, someone may claim to support a certain political party or cause because of its principles or policies, but in reality, they may be influenced by their emotions, biases, interests, or social pressures. Similarly, someone may argue that they donate to a certain charity because of its effectiveness or impact, but in fact, they may be motivated by their guilt, vanity, or personal connections.

One of the main challenges of being charitable is deciding who to give to and how much to give. There are countless causes and organisations that claim to help people in need, but not all of them are equally effective or trustworthy. Some may have high administrative costs, questionable practices, or even fraudulent intentions. 

Another challenge of being charitable is balancing one’s own needs and interests with those of others. Giving to charity can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it can also entail some sacrifices and trade-offs. For example, one may have to forego some personal expenses or pleasures in order to donate more money, or one may have to spend less time with family or friends in order to volunteer more hours. Moreover, one may have to deal with some ethical dilemmas or moral conflicts when choosing between different causes or beneficiaries. For instance, one may wonder whether it is better to give locally or globally, to help people who are suffering now or in the future, or to support causes that are more urgent or more neglected.

To overcome these challenges, one can adopt some strategies or principles that can guide one’s charitable decisions and actions. One possible strategy is to set a budget or a goal for one’s giving and to stick to it regardless of external pressures or temptations. This can help one to be consistent and disciplined in one’s giving and to avoid guilt or regret. Another possible strategy is to use a framework or a method that can help one to compare and prioritise different causes or charities based on their effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment with one’s values. This can help one to be rational and informed in one’s giving and to maximise the positive impact of one’s donations.

Being charitable is a commendable and beneficial practice, but it also comes with some challenges and difficulties. By being aware of these challenges and by applying some strategies or principles, one can overcome them and become a more effective and confident giver. Ultimately, being charitable is not only about helping others but also about improving oneself.

Charity is supposed to be a selfless act of giving to others who are in need, without expecting anything in return. However, in recent years, some people have used charity as a way to show off their wealth, status, or virtue. They donate large sums of money to high-profile causes or organisations, but they also make sure that everyone knows about their generosity. They may publicise their donations on social media, seek recognition or awards, or attend glamorous events that are meant to raise funds for charity.

This phenomenon of show-off charity has several negative consequences for the charity world. First, it may undermine the trust and credibility of the charity sector, as some donors may have ulterior motives or hidden agendas for their giving. Second, it may create a distorted image of charity, as some donors may focus more on the publicity or the glamour than on the impact or the effectiveness of their donations. Third, it may crowd out other forms of charity, as some donors may neglect or ignore the less visible or less popular causes or organisations that also need support.

Therefore, it is important to challenge and change the culture of show-off charity, and to promote a more genuine and humble spirit of giving. 

“If you do deeds of charity openly, it is well; But if you bestow it upon the needy in secretly, it will be even better for you.”

[Quran 2:271]

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