Is Charitable Giving Cleansing ?

My recent post “Should Businesses be Giving Back to the Community” stimulated some insightful comments in response. Of course the critical word in the post was ‘back’. I absolutely believe that companies should be investing in the community and, as I said, I also believe they should be clear about their rationale for giving. But if indeed they are giving back to compensate for taking away, those companies should stop the taking away.

In the Science Digest section of today’s Washington Post, underneath a full page analysis of the Climate Bill is a short piece On Good Behavior by Rachel Saslow. Saslow reports on an article in the Psychological Science journal by Rumen Iliev, a Northwestern University psychologist.

Psychologists at the University gave 46 undergraduate students what the students thought was a handwriting test. One third of the participants copied out positive words such as caring, generous and fair; one third copied out neutral words and one third copied out negative words such as selfish, disloyal and greedy. The participants then had to write a short story about themselves using those words.

After the activity, participants were asked if they would like to make a donation to charity. Donations from the negative word group averaged $5.30, the neutral word group averaged $2.71 and the positive word group $1.07. According to Saslow, the researchers concluded that people who engage in immoral behavior “cleanse” themselves with good work. (unless there was more research that was not reported in the article I would say that big donations might be more accurate terminology than good work).

This is only one small study of course and the dynamics of companies is different to that of individuals. Nevertheless corporations are comprised of individuals and we should remain clear about the rationale for our charitable giving.


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