Thursday, September 06, 2007

Charity worth it?

I think most people realize that in strictly monetary terms, volunteering is often inefficient. If a doctor earns $100 per hour, he could pay 10 people $10 to work in a soup kitchen for an hour, instead of volunteering just one hour himself.

We justify this inefficiency by saying there are non-monetary effects, such as a sense of fulfillment the doctor gets, or the doctor contributing to society or being a role model.

Yet it's hard to stomach some instances of charity inefficiency. In this story, we find out about how hair-donation programs are not all they're cracked up to be:
But although charities have been highly effective at stirring the passions of donors, they have been less successful at finding a use for the mountains of hair sent to them as a result. As much as 80 percent of the hair donated to Locks of Love, the best known of the charities, is unusable for its wigs, the group says. Many people are unaware of the hair donation guidelines and send in hair that is gray, wet or moldy, too short, or too processed, some of which is immediately thrown away. Even hair that survives the winnowing may not go to the gravely ill, but may be sold to help pay for charities’ organizational costs.
Someone more cynical might suggest that donating your hair is relatively popular because it is a visual symbol and you will have the opportunity to boast about your charity to everyone.
“We created this monster because people get so much from it,” said Madonna Coffman, the president of Locks of Love. “They get the attention. They get a warm and fuzzy feeling..."
I won't go that far, but maybe we should instead celebrate the ones that are going to have the biggest impacts.

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