Sunday, March 17, 2019

Should I give to charity if its values don't match my own?

A reader we're calling Betty found herself with several days where she had no appointments, no need to rush around on errands, and ample time to sort through boxes of old clothing and other belongings stored away in her attic. It was a task she'd wanted to tackle for years, but never found the time to do it. 

Some of the items she kept. Others she offered to relatives who might find meaning from the goods. Still others she sorted out to drop off at her local Goodwill store. But some items seemed too precious to simply drop off in a random donation box.

One such item was the christening gown that had been worn by each of her children when they were baptized. Betty's grandchildren were now teenagers so they'd have no need of the gown. But she had stored it well and the christening gown was in pristine condition. Betty thought it might come of use to someone who might not be able to afford a christening gown for their own child.

No longer active in her church, Betty reached out to a cousin who was still quite active in hers. She asked her if she might know of some group that might accept such donations that could be passed along. Her cousin told Betty she was pretty certain she could find some possibilities for her.

At first Betty was elated. But then a concern set in.

Some of the charitable religious organizations she knew did good work to help alleviate hardships brought on by poverty also had policies that Betty found objectionable. Rather than follow state and federal law protecting the rights of same-sex couples, some groups, for example, had dropped their foster and adoption programs altogether. Still, Betty applauded the other good works these agencies did.

"Is it enough that they do good work?" Betty asks. "Does that outweigh the policies or stances I find objectionable?"

Betty wants to know if she should agree to donate her christening gown to an agency if it is among those who hold some viewpoints she finds objectionable.

Betty is not alone in wrestling with such a decision. I regularly hear from readers about whether they should drop money in a bucket for a fund drive run by an organization about which they have reservations. That Betty wants to take the time to try to ensure that the values of an organization to which she might want to make a donation align with her own is good. It's also good that Betty recognizes that some organizations do good work in addition to holding views she finds objectionable.

But Betty has no obligation to support any organization whose values she doesn't support. Betty should make sure she understands the organization's policies clearly so that she doesn't make any decisions based simply on something she heard rather than something that truly exists. If it turns out that the prospective charity does hold views Betty finds abhorrent, then the right thing is to find a different charity to which she can donate the gown. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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