Fribble Monday, December 27, 1999

The Don't Donate Fribble

By Selena Maranjian (TMF Selena)

[This Fribble originally ran in December of 1998, but we've updated it and we think you'll find it's just as relevant to this year's Foolanthropy drive.]

By now most of you should have heard of our annual Foolanthropy drive. It's where we ask Fools across America (and the world) to stand up and be counted -- to chip in as little as a dollar each to help us work with Share Our Strength, fighting hunger and poverty. [This year we're raising money for five charities.]

Careful readers of The Motley Fool will have noticed that we staffers don't always agree on every issue, whether it be the merit of a certain company as a possible investment or the value of valuation in stock analysis or... a charity drive. That's right. I'm here to say bah humbug. I'm not alone in my view, either. Consider the sensible words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Do not tell me... of my obligation to put all poor men
in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee,
thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar,
the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong
to me and to whom I do not belong."

Touch�. These charity-mongers have a few misfiring neurons, if you ask me. Look at this wacky notion of Mother Teresa's:

"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop
in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think
the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."

Oh, please. Would we really notice one missing drop in the ocean? I think not. I think that we wouldn't even notice 500,000 missing drops! (Mother Teresa must not have had much time for math lessons.) (Or for gazing at the vastness of the ocean, for that matter.)

Oscar Wilde notes that:

"Charity creates a multitude of sins."

This makes sense to me, too. After all, once we start parting with our hard-earned dollars, sending them off to people we don't know, isn't that the first step on the slippery slope to wanton and reckless money mismanagement? Sure, we'll help a few people fall asleep without rumbling stomachs. We'll help a few people learn skills to keep themselves employed for the rest of their lives. But what will become of us? We'll soon be... we'll... hmm... well, I can't think of any sin that charity leads to, but I'm sure there must be some. And they're probably really bad ones, too. And it's not like sins can be forgiven or anything.

Virginia Woolf adds another thought-provoking point:

"Where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses,
Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and
the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe."

We Fools are no dummies. "Fool" does not mean idiot. Our interests are broad, our knowledge is deep, and our minds are big. Real big. So perhaps we really shouldn't be trying to cram charitable thoughts into our already-brimming noggins.

Just imagine spending time thinking about a family huddled together for warmth and comfort, worrying about where their next meal and dollar will come from. (In 1993, more than one in four of U.S. children -- 29% -- were hungry or at risk of hunger, according to the Bread for the World Institute.) Sure, it's sad. And there are many, many such families around the world, including here in America. But this single additional thought might dislodge another important train of thought from our bursting brains. Perhaps something as valuable as... Should I get a sunroof or not? Will a three-bedroom house be big enough? How should I invest this bonus from work? Hmm... should I get the "roasted tuna with black pepper, parsnip puree and shallot confit in Port wine" or the "grilled lamb steak with green flageolets, roasted garlic and tomatoes"?

Charles Lamb offers up one of the perils of charitable giving:

"The greatest pleasure I know, is to do a good action by stealth,
and to have it found out by accident."

This does indeed sound pleasurable. But come on -- how likely is it? Let's say that you send in a dollar, or maybe ten or twenty dollars, to the Fool's charity drive. Let's say that Foodchain uses that money to support a soup kitchen in Atlanta. And that due to some incredible, unforeseeable, unlikely turn of events, you find yourself homeless in Atlanta next year. You walk into the very soup kitchen that you helped support and your soup is dispensed with a ladle that your own money paid for! But who will know? How will this be found out by accident? It probably won't. So why bother?

One last reason to not donate is because the Fool is actually undermining its own fundraising drive by offering an alternative. On the one hand, all readers are invited to chip in a dollar or two. (Of course, ten or twenty dollars would be welcomed with even louder huzzahs.) The thinking is that if some 500,000 readers contribute just two dollars each, we'll raise a million dollars that can do a lot of good. (35 million Americans are hungry or at risk of hunger, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1997.)

On the other hand, the Fool is also issuing a challenge to readers. For every post made on our message boards, we'll contribute 2 cents to charity. So... if you were planning on contributing $25, you can simply post 1,250 notes on our message boards instead and we'll write that $25 check for you.

I know that my powers of persuasion are compelling. (I wasn't on my junior high debate team for nothing!) If you weren't averse to contributing to our charity fund before, you're surely turned off to the idea by now. So here's a summary of how you can not contribute:

  • You can refrain from sending money in by mail.
  • You can choose not to use our secure, online credit card donation system.
  • You can hang on to your shares of stock and not donate any.

Happy upcoming holiday season, fellow Fools! Don't forget to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

[Discuss our charity drive on our Foolanthropy message board!]

[This has been another installment of Selena's ridiculous Fribbles. If you're a glutton for the absurd, check out her archive.]