Why do we give to charities or causes from which we expect nothing more tangible than the usual warm fuzzy satisfaction? There are sociological and now evo-biological explanations for our altruisms. Most of us give for simple reasons - compassion, willingness to share, support for a worthy cause. Sometimes we also give for more mundane monetary or social reasons - tax breaks or because we cannot turn down a friend's request.
My donations continue through the calendar year depending on who needs my help at a particular time or fundraiser. However, the bulk of the check writing takes place right around this time when I go through my list of regular charities and send out the customary funds. I expect nothing in return although many of the organizations send me token gifts of address labels, note pads, car decals or some such item of appreciation along with a thank-you note and another form for future donations. Occasionally, some of them would have special gifts associated with different levels of donations. Most of the time I pass on these unless it is something quirky or mildly useful that I want. I have in the last thirty years, opted to receive perhaps three or four such gift items while making charitable donations. This year however, I lusted after an "All Things Considered" commemorative coffee mug when I donated to the Houston area NPR station. It was one of the gifts being offered at the level of contribution that I made. The cost of receiving the gift was $10 ($6 for the mug + $4 for shipping & handling) which was deducted from my total contribution. The donation was made a few months ago during the radio station's fund raising drive and soon thereafter I received a receipt for my net contribution. I had forgotten about the whole thing. But a few days ago when I sat down to write the remaining charity checks, I remembered the mug and realized that I haven't yet received it. This fact bothered me a lot! I have been wondering why. It is after all only a six dollar mug and I would have made the same contribution even without the lure of the mug. Please explain this strange gnawing acquisitive feeling in an endeavor whose essence was really an act of giving on my part. Why does the missing mug make me feel slightly cheated? Is it because even in our generosity, we like to receive what we are promised, however trivial the gift may be?
One of my long time favorite charities, the World Wildlife Fund customarily offers gifts with donations. Except for two gifts (a stuffed tiger and a tote bag, both of which were delivered as promised) in the last twenty five years, I routinely decline their gifts. But this year again, the WWF has something I really wanted. So I wrote them a check and checked the "yes" square next to the item. Now I will wait for my WWF Butterfly Umbrella!!