Introduction to the charity feature

The merits of charity

charityStudent volunteers at the U of M's Shinerama. Photo provided by Asper School of Business.

Two months ago, as students finished their courses for the fall term, a number of them invested their additional free time into volunteering for local charities.

Of course, charities operate year-round and informal giving permeates our social world. We’re encouraged by the media and through cultural narratives to consider those who don’t have the same quality of life we do. When faced with a recognition of the suffering of others and the level of inequality in our society, most people’s first reactions are to want to help.

While some people offer criticisms about the efficacy of charitable organizations and the models they operate by (we certainly will here), we can also take heart in the intents of people contributing to charities. People are giving their time and financial resources out of a desire to do good for others.

These reactions are a central feature of human nature. Charitable giving is, in part, a manifestation of this desire to help and protect others.

The ubiquitous nature of the desire to help others makes it a topic worthy of discussion and a perfect candidate for the first feature of the year.

A comprehensive discussion of charity should look at a number of topics: it should explore the social psychology of giving, question the idea of altruism, look at the social institutions that necessitate charity, analyze specific charitable organizations and events, and feature personal narratives of individuals giving as well as receiving from others.

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to touch upon all of these in the time and space allocated to us, but I hope that what’s presented here can serve as the launching pad for a number of discussions about charity.

This feature will include profiles of several charitable initiatives that have U of M student involvement, an interview with Donald Benham, Winnipeg Harvest’s director of hunger and poverty awareness, and a look at Bob Geldof’s influence on musical charity initiatives.

I hope that the acts of charity profiled in this section inspire you to address social problems in your own communities and that the critical discussion about the nature of charity as an institution encourages you to think about the most effective ways to address those social problems.