What is Checkbook Charity?

Mary McMahon

Checkbook charity is a form of charity in which people give donations, but provide no other material support to charitable causes. Many charities rely heavily on checkbook charity to fund major initiatives and their operating costs, and they are not huge fans of the slightly disparaging term “checkbook charity” as a result. Some donors and participants in charity feel that people should go beyond checkbook charity, and actually get involved directly in charitable causes.

Checkbook charity is a form of charity in which people give donations, but no other form of material support.
Checkbook charity is a form of charity in which people give donations, but no other form of material support.

The tradition of philanthropy is very old, and it is especially common among wealthier individuals, many of whom are pressured to contribute to charity. For some people, checkbook charity is as far as they want to go, either because they are extremely busy, or because they feel that sending financial support is sufficient. Given the high operating costs of many charities, this logic is not entirely wrong: all the volunteers in the world are useless without funds to support their efforts.

Providing a monetary donation but no other support is defined as "checkbook charity".
Providing a monetary donation but no other support is defined as "checkbook charity".

Other people think that while writing checks is good, people should become more involved in charity. For example, people may volunteer with the charity's programs, or promote the charity in some way. Wealthier individuals especially are often asked to organize charity fund raising events, using their considerable social clout to attract more donors. People with skills such as medical training or construction skills may also be called upon to donate their abilities to charitable causes.

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Nonprofits need volunteers to carry out services as well as monetary donations.
Nonprofits need volunteers to carry out services as well as monetary donations.

The need for volunteers who are willing to dedicate time and skills to charity is often pressing. Just as volunteers cannot thrive without assistance from financial donors, charities will not survive without volunteer support. While many charities have paid staffers who deal with the administrative details, much of the work performed by charities is done by volunteers who are willing to dedicate themselves to charity service for amounts of time which dedicate from years abroad to a few hours a week. One advantage of volunteering is that it does not require a financial investment, unlike checkbook charity, a form of charity which can really only be practiced by people with money.

Charity is encouraged by many of the world's religions, and people without religious beliefs may also feel that charity is important. Some charity supporters believe that simply writing checks is not a full engagement with charitable causes, when compared with getting directly involved with the work of the charity. Volunteering for charity can take a number of forms, from serving meals at a soup kitchen to traveling overseas with medical teams to provide health care to disadvantaged populations.

People engaging in charity may help out homeless people.
People engaging in charity may help out homeless people.

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