Frequently Unanswered Questions (FUQ)

Dear journalists, before we embark on a journey along all too familiar landscapes, please read this.

Q (Question) 1. Mr. Bekkers, you study ‘giving to charities’. How do you know whether a donation to a charity is well spent?

  • U (Unanswer) 1. Well, I don’t, actually. Indeed my research is about giving to charities. I do not study how charities spend the funds they raise. I can tell you that donors say they care about how charities spend their money. In fact this is often an excuse. People who complain about inefficiency of charities are typically those who would never donate money in a million years, regardless of whatever evidence showing that donations are efficient.

Q2. Mr. Bekkers, what is the reason why people give to charity?

  • U2. There is not one reason, there’s 8 different types of reasons, also called ‘mechanisms’, buttons you can push to create more giving. You can read more about them here. You said you wanted fewer reasons? Well, I can give you a list of four reasons: egoism, altruism, collectivism, and principlism. Oh no, there’s only three types of reasons: emotions, cognitions, and things we are not aware of. Wait, there’s only two reasons: truly altruistic reasons and disguised egoism.

Q3. Speaking of altruism, isn’t all seemingly altruistic behavior in the end somewhat egoistic?

  • U3. Yes, you’re probably right. I would say about 95% of all giving (just a ball park figure) is motivated by non-altruistic concerns, like being asked, knowing someone who suffered from a problem, knowing someone who benefited,  benefiting oneself, getting tax breaks and deductions, social pressure to comply with requests for donations, feeling good about giving, having an impact on others, feeling in power, paternalism, having found a cookie or something else that cheered you up, or letting the wife decide about charities to keep her busy and save the marriage.

Q4. Sorry, what I meant to ask is this: does true altruism exist at all?

  • U4. No, probably not, but we don’t know. Nobody has ever come up with a convincing experiment that rules out all non-altruistic motives for giving. Many people have tried, but they have been unsuccessful. It is hard to eliminate all emotions, cognitions, awareness of the donor about the consequences of the donation.

Q5. I mean, isn’t all giving in the end also about helping ourselves, like when you’re feeling good about giving?

  • U5. That could be right, we can’t rule out the ‘warm glow’ without blowing out the candle. But if you would only be interested in feeling good, then having a chocolate bar might be a lot cheaper.

Q6. Why do people volunteer?

  • A1. See U2 above. In many respects, giving money is like giving time.

Q7. Are you a generous man yourself? What do you give to charity?

  • U6. I am not at liberty to answer this question.

Q8. How much do we give in the Netherlands?

  • A2. Read all about the numbers in our Giving in the Netherlands volume, published biennially. A summary in English is here. The latest estimates are about 2011. On April 23, 2015, we will publish new estimates (about 2013).

Q9. Is it true that the Dutch are a very generous population?

Q10. Is altruism part of human nature?

  • U8. I will answer this question with the only decent scientific answer a scientist can ever give: “Well, it depends”. In this case, it all depends on what you call ‘altruism’ (and ‘human nature’ of course). If you view helping in the absence of rewards spontaneously and repeatedly toward humans and conspecifics as altruism, then chimpanzees are altruistic; if you view cooperation in order to maintain mating access to single females against other males as altruism, bottlenose dolphins are altruistic; and if you view promoting chances of survival of your genes as altruism even maize plants can be  altruistic.

Hattips to Roel van Geene and Melissa Brown

Update: 16 July 2014

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Filed under altruism, charitable organizations, household giving, philanthropy, psychology, volunteering

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