Tactical Philanthropy has an interesting discussion of “non-optimized giving”: New Philanthropy Capital CEO Martin Brookes “confesses” to “wasting charitable funds” on a cause he doesn’t believe is the best, and Sean responds that “Under your logic, we should all feel guilty about all of our giving that does not go to the single best charity in the world … Be proud of yourself, Martin. You’re a great philanthropist.”
I don’t think it’s wrong to make gifts that aren’t “optimized for pure social impact.” Personally, I’ve made “gifts” with many motivations: because friends asked, because I wanted to support a resource I personally benefit from, etc. I’ve stopped giving to my alma mater (which I suspect has all the funding it can productively use) and I’ve never made a gift just to “tell myself a nice story,” but in both cases I can understand why one would.
Giving money for selfish reasons, in and of itself, seems no more wrong than unnecessary personal consumption (entertainment, restaurants, etc.), which I and everyone else I know does plenty of. The point at which it becomes a problem, to me, is when you “count it” toward your charitable/philanthropic giving for the year.
My personal approach is to designate a certain percentage of my annual income for pure altruistic giving (most recently to the Stop Tuberculosis Partnership). When a friend asks me to give to a charity they’re “running for”, I give a small amount and think of it in the same bucket as holiday gifts – it doesn’t affect the size of my annual altruistic gift.
I believe that the world’s wealthy should make gifts that are aimed at nothing but making the world a better place for others. We should challenge ourselves to make these gifts as big as possible. We should not tell ourselves that we are philanthropists while making no gifts that are really aimed at making the world better.
But this philosophy doesn’t forbid you from spending your money in ways that make you feel good. It just asks that you don’t let those expenditures lower the amount you give toward really helping others.