Definition Essay-Kirsten Smith

What Is Charity?

In a New York Times article entitled What is Charity? Professor John D. Colombo a tax-law professor at the University of Illinois makes this statement, We simply don’t have a coherent rationale for what it is we call charity. So we have these vastly different sorts of organizations doing vastly different things and calling it charity.”

Other words that may come to mind when you think of charity may be generosity, philanthropy, patronage, or aid. These words are all associated with helping people through different means whether it is time, money, or goods, which at the same time can have even more meanings. After researching what charity is, and looking at different types of charities, the only encompassing definition that I could come up with is: helping someone who needs help. As broad and general as that definition might be, it is true. It is the only way that you can lump together handing out free supplies to victims of disaster, providing shoes to African children, eradicating disease, and many other kinds of charities into one category. Charity can mean helping the poor, the uneducated, the diseased, or the disabled. If I would donate my money or belongings to an organization that wastes them does that mean I still donated them to charity?

When we think of who benefits from charity, I’m sure we all think of a hungry orphan child or someone suffering from an incurable disease, but quite often charities fail to do their job and the ones that benefit are the ones that didn’t really need any help to begin with. One could also argue that charity is done so that you can get something back in return. In the United States, we are able to get a tax break when we donate money. For this reason, many wealthy people who otherwise would be taxed donate heavily to charity. For the most part, all charities are looked at the same by the federal government and it does not matter who gets the money as long as it goes to a legitimate charity and follows the eight rules posted on the IRS website. That’s right, there are rules for donating and it’s not a secret that people do it for the tax break. The first two sentences on the IRS page say this: “Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower your tax bill. The IRS has put together the following eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return”. So in a way by donating to charities, the charities are doing the wealthy a favor by helping them “hide” their money. One could say that the wealthy need help keeping their money, and the charities are helping them do that. So in a way, the “charity” being given to, does not have to be the one that helps Africans go to school by providing them with shoes, the charity in this case could be the wealthy person who is giving their money and getting a tax break in return.

There are charities out there that give shoes to African children so that they can attend school, there are charities whose goal is to eradicate polio, and there are charities that donate goods to disaster areas. These charities all sound like great ideas from the outside, but a closer look reveals that they aren’t quite helping anyone. In the attempt to help African children attend school, one company is donating shoes to children without them, but most of these shoes are being handed out to children who already own shoes. As a result, many indigenous shoe salesmen are losing business and families are becoming dependent on these donations. While trying to eradicate polio, many of the people aimed at being helped are refusing the vaccinations and demanding medication for other more serious diseases. This is wasting the money and time of anyone who volunteers or donates to this organization. After the 1998 hurricane in Honduras, ports were being congested and military personnel were being used up by unnecessary donations of unneeded supplies and outdated medications. These examples demonstrate how three different kinds of charities are failing the people they are supposed to be helping, further blurring the definition of what charity means and what it does.

Unsuccessful charities can still call themselves charities and make the claim that they are benefiting others as long as they make the attempt or seem like they are helping someone. After the 2006 tsunami in Indonesia, many charities donated rice to feed the people who were devastated by the natural disaster. The problem arose when rice farmers only a quarter mile inland had been unaffected by the disaster unable to sell their flourishing crops because people were being fed for free. Nobody was going to pay for rice when they could get it for free. As a result, the devastation of the tsunami was more far reaching than just the people who lost their families and homes. The donations of rice from other countries took away the livelihood of the indigenous rice farmers.

A charity does not have to be a righteous group of people who better the lives of everyone they try to help or say that they help. We can’t keep looking at charity as something that forever changes the lives of the people being affected by it. Buying a certain pair of shoes doesn’t always mean that an African child will get the opportunity to go to school who otherwise would not be able to; buying these shoes just means that someone somewhere in Africa will receive a free pair of shoes whether they need them or not.

Works Cited

Abraham, Thomas . “They Need Other Medicine Too.” The New York Times: The Opinion Pages. The New York TImes, 19 Nov 2012. Web. 2 Apr 2013.         http://citationmachine.net/index2.php?reqstyleid=1&mode=form&rsid=6&reqsrcid         =MLAWebDocument&more=yes&nameCnt=1.

Butler, Kiera. “Do Tome Shoes Really Help People?.” Mother Jones. Mother Jones, 14  May 2012. Web. 2 Apr 2013.    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/05/toms-shoes-buy-one-give-      one.

“Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions.” IRS. N.p., 22 Mar 2011. Web. 2 Apr            2013. http://www.irs.gov/uac/Eight-Tips-for-Deducting-Charitable-  Contributions.

Shaikh, Alanna. “Nobody Wants Your Old Shoes: How Not To Help Haiti.” Aid Watch.   New York University, 16 Jan 2010. Web. 2 Apr 2013.         http://aidwatchers.com/2010/01/nobody-wants-your-old-shoes-how-not-to-help-      in-haiti/>.

Strom, Stephanie. “What is Charity?.” The New York Times: Giving. The New York          Times, 14 Nov 2005. Web. 2 Apr 2013.      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/14/giving/14strom.html?pagewanted=all.

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One Response to Definition Essay-Kirsten Smith

  1. davidbdale says:

    Hey, Kirsten! That’s a good-looking Works Cited!

    As you may recall, I’ll be making comments paragraph by paragraph as I read your argument, so you’ll get “live” feedback from a critical reader (some would say too critical).

    P1. Punctuation and Mechanics.

    • Use italics for New York Times, Kirsten (It’s a publication.).
    • Use quotation marks for “What Is Charity?” (It’s an article.).
    • Use commas around “,a tax law professor at the University of Illinois,” (It’s an appositive.).
    • I appreciate the (Strom), and I don’t object to it, but we don’t actually need it for informal citation. Since you’ve named the title, we can easily find your source in the Works Cited.

    P1. Content.
    This is a clean and professional approach to an introduction, Kirsten. If you want to take it to the next level, include a hint about why it’s important to agree on a definition of charity. Even a simple Definition Argument is not an academic exercise: it’s a chance to make a meaningful statement of your own position. We want to do good in the world. Charities promised to help us accomplish that goal. Therefore it’s important (to us and to the recipients) to know what good our money, effort, and time accomplishes. See what I mean?

    P2.
    Fails for Grammar Rule 12.
    Fails for Grammar Rule 4.

    You may use “we” to indicate that you and your reader share goals and problems, Kirsten. “I” is less desirable. So is talking to your reader about your goals and efforts. No reader cares what you did or how hard you worked to come up with a definition of charity. They do want to know how it affects their lives. If they for one minute get the idea that you’re going to talk more about yourself than about them, they’ll stop reading.

    Lose every rhetorical question that replaces a bold clear claim, Kirsten. What your last sentence needs to say, again, empowers the reader, which is always better than reflecting on you: “Donations to a charity that wastes money intended for recipients isn’t charity at all.” See the difference? Remove yourself from your paragraphs.

    P3. Get yourself out of the first sentence.

    Fails for Grammar Rule 12.

    Now you’re getting somewhere. For the purposes of the IRS, “charitable” means one thing only. Does the “charity” qualify for tax purposes?

    Earlier you nearly came up with another categorical definition: Charities are organizations that pass through donations with minimal overhead for the maximum benefit of needy recipients. Or something like that.

    The “many types of charity” chat you gave in your early paragraphs is less relevant than distinctions I’m drawing here, Kirsten. Regarding charitable organizations, what’s essential to your thesis is not whether they deliver goods, or services, or money, or material supplies; but whether they actually deliver something helpful rather than harmful. Am I right? Keep your essay focused on that essential point.

    (Again, you don’t need to use the “Eight Tips” parenthetical citation in the body of your essay. We can find the source.)

    Your point about the wealthy getting tax breaks will sound very snarky to people of moderate means who scrape together a few thousand dollars over the course of the year to give from their hearts to philanthropic efforts they believe in, in return for a couple hundred dollars off their taxes. They appreciate the break, but they’d be very insulted to hear you characterize them as trying to hide their wealth. I’d back off on the rhetoric considerably.

    P4. Here’s the heart of your argument, and it’s rich enough to fill the entire essay if you focus on it more closely. A comparison between Toms Shoes and any organization that promotes local businesses instead of delivering material goods would be very beneficial.

    I very much admire the economy and clarity of your two-sentence obliteration of the polio eradication effort, but you don’t have to be so dismissive of it to make your point. The effort is certainly not entirely responsive to the perceived needs of the participants, but vaccination is different from hunger. I can give you a sandwich or I can train your whole village to grow more grain. I’m not wasting my time helping the local economy just because you’d rather have a sandwich. (This will expand your definition of charity a bit, I think.)

    You are not permitted to blur the lines of what charity means, Kirsten. Your obligation here is to sharpen the edges.

    P5. I’m liking your essay more and more. Your recent focus on the actual outcomes of supposed charitable efforts was good. This new angle on the presumptuousness of supposed charities is very good. However, your paragraph doesn’t actually fulfill its promise. It only identifies efforts that failed to achieve their sincere goals, which is completely relevant, but it doesn’t expose those charities as wrongly “calling themselves charities.” (Now, if they came back next time bragging about all the rice they sent to relieve the hunger of the 2006 tsunami, ignoring its ineffectiveness while seeking my new donation, that would be insincere.)

    P6. Actually, yes it does. A charity has to be exactly what you say it doesn’t have to be. Of course we should look at charities precisely as agents of lifelong improvements. You must mean that we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that an organization that calls itself a charity actually meets that goal, but that’s a very far cry from what your sentences actually say.

    This will earn a fair grade just as it is, because it does a reasonable job in a professional way, Kirsten. But I hope you won’t be satisfied with that.

    I’d love to know if you find these comments useful, and not merely annoying. Please respond, and also, be prepared to share with your classmates in class today whatever lessons you have learned from this feedback. Thanks, Kirsten.

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