The Ten Commandments of Charity

Posted: Jan 18, 2007 12:01 AM
The Ten Commandments of Charity

Yesterday, I ran a column on panhandlers, which pretty clearly summarizes my feelings about giving money to beggars on the street. Those who wrote to tell me they are superior Christians because they don’t judge people (like I do) are unworthy of a rebuttal. They are free to continue to purchase alcohol and crack for the unemployed and to do it all in the name of Jesus.

But those who wrote complaining that I opined on what not to do while omitting advice on what to do are deserving of a follow-up. For them, I supply the following Ten Commandments of Charity. All of them are brilliant because they are not original. They are all based on the conduct and advice of those I respect deeply. I hope they are helpful:

  1. Never disclose the amount of money you give to charity. One evening I was watching a speech by Bill O’Reilly. He was addressing an audience at Harvard University. One very belligerent student demanded to know the exact amount Bill gives to charity every year. He very forcefully told the kid it was none of his business. Remember what the Sermon on the Mount says about charity. The moment you broadcast your good deeds you start to lose focus on their true meaning. If you cannot follow rule #1, please skip 2 through 10 and give all your money to panhandlers.
  2. Small charitable organizations are better than large ones. Years ago, the Sigma Chi fraternity (at Mississippi State) was debating where to send its Derby Week contributions. The decision was important as we ended up raising over $50,000. Just as we were about to go with The United Way or some standard national organization, a member named Hamp Bryan told us about a hospice in his home town that was in danger of being shut down. We ended up going with the smaller charity and helping it keep its doors open. The United Way did just fine without us.

  3. Individual charities are often better than organizations. What happens if you can’t find a satisfactory charity? Is there any reason why you should not target a person or family? Some years ago my mother helped a former heroin addict (and convicted felon) get on his feet. When he got a job, he needed money for gas and other miscellaneous expenses. His family was invited into our home for nice home cooked meals. When he went astray (and back into a life of drugs) she knew it immediately. It’s easier to know when to stop giving to an individual but it’s harder with an organization that goes astray.

  4. Conduct a thorough investigation of every charity. Speaking of organizations gone astray, I used to contribute money to The United Way (not knowing that they sometimes give money to Planned Parenthood). That is tough to live with, but no one’s fault other than mine. Do your homework so you don’t have such a thing hanging on your conscience. Trust me, I’ve been there.

  5. The Fair Tax is our nation’s best potential engine for charity growth. Those who make wisecracks about compassionate conservatism being an oxymoron generally believe in “compelled charity,” which is the true oxymoron. Nancy Pelosi and her followers are the most uncompassionate and uncharitable people in America. They want the IRS to collect our “charity” at the point of a gun. But charity, once compelled, ceases to be charity. If we want to see an explosion of charitable giving in America, we must abolish the IRS. The Fair Tax (see is our only realistic hope.

  6. Volunteer first, contribute second. It is always better to give to a charity with which you are familiar. There is no better way to learn about an organization than by volunteering for that organization. Give your time first, and your money second.

  7. Don’t settle for the existing charity. Yesterday, I was talking to one of the best (if not the best) First Amendment attorneys in America. He mentioned that his church has a fund for those seeking to adopt children. The fund, which was started by a couple at the church, probably has close to zero overhead. I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The real question is: How many people reading this column will be inspired to duplicate it?

  8. Use charity to defeat prejudice. Once, there was a woman who overheard her youngest son making fun of a handicapped child. She made him help her do volunteer work with handicapped children. She kept giving him his weekly allowance but made him give it to a charity helping handicapped kids. Later, as an adult, he gave to the same charity – but this time of his own free will.

  9. Practice spontaneous charity. Did you hear the one about the lady who was driving through a slum and saw a poor woman walking home from her job as a cook in a cafeteria? She was about to have to cook again for her own family when she heard the knock on the door. As she was handed a bag of groceries and a hot meal all she heard was, “Don’t thank me, thank Jesus.”

  10. Use charity as therapy. Sometimes we have bad days. We wake up angry at the world. I had an excellent education professor (one of three in America) who said that the best cure for a bad mood was just to greet everyone we saw with a smile and a few polite words. He said it would soon be contagious. Imagine what would happen if we took that $150 for our next therapy session – the one we go to for reasons of status (“well, MY analyst says”) – and bought cloths for the homeless instead.

Or just ignore these commandments, take the easy way out, and throw a quarter at the next panhandler you see at Wal-Mart. It’s almost as easy as letting the IRS handle your charity for you.

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