Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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January 12th, 2011

Charity Morality


charitymorality-flashEver wondered why, after you give a small gift to a charity, you get a request for another gift almost immediately? Or how all these charities find you — even though you’ve just moved a few weeks earlier?

Writes Ann Kadet in the Weekend Journal

When your favorite nonprofit isn’t busy saving the whales, chances are it’s making a serious behind-the-scenes effort to know you better — using increasingly sophisticated technology. It can survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool. If it’s really on the ball, the charity can even get an email alert when your stock holdings double.

But when your hospital does all this research on you, while you lie sick in their bed, is it unethical? If they find out that you are a potentially big donor, will you get preferential treatment?

Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says it’s hard to justify “golden runways” that whisk donors past waiting lists. During treatment and recovery, he adds, patients may feel too vulnerable to refuse a solicitation.

I’m not bothered by this too much: Charities and non-profits struggle to raise money in tough economic times. And since so many of us post so much information online for the world to see, it’s bound to be used to size us up in most every situation. But I’d certainly be peeved if a blinged out woman was bumped ahead of me in line for a life-saving procedure. Is there a way to avoid this moral hazard?

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • Jack Regan

    It’s the way the world is going in one way, I suppose, but I have always found it a little awkward.

    In the UK where I live, I used to sponsor a child in Africa. This cost me £18 (about $25) a month, which was quite a lot, but then every few months I would be asked to give a little more. The idea of asking even more from those who are already giving while not seriously trying to target those who are not could be classed as taking advantage.

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