A Philosophical Question for Ye.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has a moral philosophy question for you all.

Let us say that you want to donate money to a worthy charity. Let us further postulate that you can donate this money in one of the following ways: 1) You can hand a duly authorized representative of the charity cash, or; 2) You can use your bank to transfer the money to the charity (electronically, or by check, or wire service), or; 3) You can go on the charity’s web site and use a credit card to make the donation. Now, posit further, that you decide to use a credit card and choose to use a credit card that awards you “points” that you can use for yourself (or others frankly but let us assume that you use your points for your own wants/needs and don’t share them).

Here is the question: is the “good” of giving to a charity diminished in any way by choosing to use the credit card that rewards you for its use?

That is it. That is the post. Just a question.

And yes, your Maximum Leader made two donations recently using a card that awards him points for their use. He pondered this very question over a very potent margarita last night after making the donations.

Carry on.

UPDATED on May 13, 2020: You might go over and check out Kevin’s post on this subject.

NB: Poor Kevin can’t comment here because of some problem with the back-end of this blog. Your Maximum Leader has actually looked at trying to fix the problem, but it is beyond his abilities. He will have to get a real programmer to help him out on this one…

That being said… You should read the comments below as well. Broadly speaking, your Maximum Leader agrees with Kevin that the act of charity is diminished when there is a reward to the giver. It may not be diminished by much in your Maximum Leader’s view, but it is diminished. Which is why your Maximum Leader is annoyed by “gifts” to donors during PBS fundraisers. If you love PBS so much, just give your friggin money to them. The reward of giving is that you can continue to watch friggin PBS!!!!! You don’t need another damned tote bag!!!!


What if you had a credit card that gave 1% back on normal purchases, and 2% back on charity donations?

Metropolitan said:

The Metropolitan finds that this is an interestingly subtle question. First considering the main motivation: was it to obtain the points or donate to the charity. The moral issue if it was to obtain the points then it is obviously immoral. There would be no concern for the charity, or only marginal concern. It is when the main desire is to donate that the subtlety occurs.

When people donate to charities they obtain a receipt or some sort of record for tax purposes–they want the deduction for their taxes. It appears to the Metropolitan that the acceptance of points on a credit card is in the same category of moral issue. The first two examples are morally equivalent because there will be the record for tax purposes, if desired. Again the motivation is the determinant—is the donation or the deduction the primary motive.

If one is troubled by the moral issues, they can increase the donation by the amount of the deduction and/or the equivalent points award. But the question still remains, is such a sacrifice necessary?

Be it understood that receiving a tax deduction and a points award is the moral equivalent of just the deduction or just the award. So the issue generalizes to the question, if any personal benefit accruing to a donation negates or diminishes the moral value of the donation. One way to approach this is to note that the deduction or points award is in no way tied to the recipient of the donation. It is not a “kick back” or bribe. Thus, the value to the recipient of the donation is not diminished by any deduction or award. The effect will be on the perceived self-virtue of the donator.

What it seems to boil down to is that the donator determines the moral value by their approach. If the concern is on the recipient, and the acceptance of the deduction and/or the award is incidental to the donation, then it would seem that there is no diminishing of the virtue of the donation. If, however, the amount or the method of payment is a partial or definite determining factor then the moral virtue would be diminished.

Thus as in most questions of morality, the final determination comes down to the person acting and their reasons for their choices.

Buckethead - Heh. If a card did that, that would certainly the be one I would use to make charitable donations.

My Metropolitan - First off, the object of the donation was to give, not to get the points. That is a very legitimate point to make. So just to clear it up, nope didn’t make donations to get points. But I DID have a choice of cards to use to make the donation and I used the one of the ones that does give me points. I would say that my intent was good in my giving. I support the organizations wholeheartedly and made the donations on that “Giving Tuesday” thing where my give was matched by some other donor. So, in a way, the charity itself was doing what it could to entice me to give on specifically that day to maximize their contribution.

Furthermore Bill, you make a great point about tax deductions for charitable donations. Philosophically, I think they are a bad thing. I do know people that make specifically targeted donations in precise amounts at year’s end to maximize their possible tax deduction. I do not do this, but I do write off those donations I save receipts for during the year (probably 50% or so). It is the act of writing off the donations at tax time that caused me to first ponder this question. I came to the conclusion that, broadly speaking, the act of giving is somewhat diminished from a moral perspective by recieving a personal benefit for the donation. But the diminishment is a small one compared to the greater good of giving. If you were to look on some sort of scale of charity, with 0 being no moral benefit and 10 being superlative moral benefit; giving money and doing little else might be a 2 on the scale. I might bump it down to a 1.8 if there is a benefit for giving involved…

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