morality vs. frugality

In his TED talk, dan pollotta makes a distinction in philanthropy between frugality and morality. the bottom line: they aren’t equal. pallotta says too often donors want to see the organizations they give to behaving in fiscally frugal ways. the reasoning goes that the less a non-profit spends on everything other than direct service the better (read more trustworthy, honest, high minded) the organization. in other words many donors do equate frugality with morality.

do you?

i can honestly say i was influenced by my upbringing to believe in general frugality is a superior trait and one to aspire to. such a world view has definitely affected my perspectives and actions. i admit to having made moral judgments about others based in large part on their spending habits. and i’ve been hypocritical enough not to count some very lavish spenders I know as less moral.

but less isn’t always more. the true bottom line for non-profits is impact. and by chaining donations to both organizations and individuals to the measure of their frugality is often short sighted.

maybe you think someone who needs financial assistance shouldn’t be spending money on an iphone or a taxi. maybe that’s because you think you know better than they do about being smart with your money. maybe that means you feel superior or judgmental or that you only want to give to people who subscribe to your world view.

sure you have that right. but take a moment to think about how your assumptions limit you. can you recall a time your actions were judged by someone who didn’t have all the information and criticized your values? what would it be like to give money to someone for whom frugality wasn’t a strong value?

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