Peter Singer encourages us in his book, The Life You Can Save, is to cut back on your weekly coffee or stop purchasing bottled water and use this money to international organizations working with global poverty. I am in agreement that I personally (and if I can be so bold, so does most of America) have more luxuries than I need. But having luxuries is not wrong. It may be a good idea to have a few less cups of coffee or a few less bottles of water and give that money to nonprofits. But that is not a complete answer. Just the other day, I learned about a bottled water business that, for every bottle of water you buy, provides the equivalent of three times that amount of clean water for the third world. And, you would be hard pressed to find a coffee company that is not giving back to the coffee farmers that supply their coffee. It is often these luxuries that fund our very jobs allowing us to be able to give money back.
But to me, the larger concern is in our own perspective on our luxuries. These luxuries many times fuel the progress of mankind and advance a great deal of social good. Art is a perfect example. To me much of art is exhaustively financially overpriced. But it represents how much we as a culture can value beauty, ingenuity, and creativity.
There has to be a balance between minimalism and extravagance that allows our donors, and the everyday American, to feel okay about having money. Fundraising exists because many Americans have disposable income. I don’t agree with Peter Singer when he talks about giving up a cup of coffee to help someone in need. We will always view our gift from the perspective of what we gave up to give it. Most giving comes after we’ve paid our bills and set our budgets. What if it came before? What if we included charitable giving when we sat down at the table to figure out what we could spend this month? Instead of giving up coffee, what if we took a real look at what we wanted to accomplish and gave to bring about that outcome? People will respond more positively and generously when they have an opportunity to understand what their giving can mean.