“So many of the people who need charity don’t seem to deserve it” . . .

. . . wrote Andy Rooney in this long-ago essay.  This makes as much sense to the Nonprofiteer as anything else Andy Rooney ever said, which is to say, not much.  What does it mean to “deserve” charity, beyond needing it?  As  George Bernard Shaw’s Alfred Doolittle  memorably explained  in Pygmalion,

If theres anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: “Youre undeserving; so you cant have it.” But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I dont need less than a deserving man: I need more. I dont eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I’m a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything.

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski made the same point in somewhat more formal terms.

T]he mere fact that there is a valid moral distinction to be made does not entail that we want our public policies to make it.  It is, after all, difficult to discern between the deserving and the undeserving – maybe especially for governments, but for private charities too.

And Jewish folklore provides yet another version.  The story is told of a rabbi who gave a beggar $100 and then faced the reproaches of his wife, who’d seen the beggar’s wife wearing fur.  “He told me he needed it, and I had it, so I gave it to him,” replied the rabbi.  “What he does with it after is none of my concern.”  The point is that generosity is the process of separating yourself from your money, not the process of evaluating someone else’s virtues.

Does the Nonprofiteer tend to give her money to causes she judges worthwhile (and therefore deserving) and to agencies she believes are efficient (and therefore deserving)?  Of course.  But does she worry about whether the UN Population Fund is providing assistance only to women who became pregnant by an angel, or whether the ACLU vindicates the rights only of upright church-goers?  Of course not.  People who need help, deserve help.  End of conversation.

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