Members of the Chi Omega sorority making pan­cakes for charity. Claire Gwilt | Courtesy

Shoppers who spent a little too much on Black Friday and Cyber Monday had the chance to opt for a feel-good fix on Giving Tuesday this week.

Dubbed #Giv­ingTuesday, the annual social media movement claims to “kick off the char­i­table season” by encour­aging people to donate to char­ities around the world on the Tuesday after Thanks­giving. For the most part, it crops up as online donation portals that allow you to help your favorite cause with the click of a mouse.

Giving Tuesday sup­ports some good causes, but it isn’t the best way to be gen­erous.

Rather, its pro­motion of simple online dona­tions can be a form of mate­ri­alism itself — encour­aging us to act as though money and things will solve people’s problems and to support orga­ni­za­tions that do the same. And it can dis­tract us from giving our greatest imma­terial resource: the time we could spend vol­un­teering and building rela­tion­ships in our local com­mu­nities.

Online giving is becoming more popular. According to the latest M+R Benchmark Study of non­profit giving metrics, online giving revenue in 2016 increased by 14 percent over 2015 totals. And the Network for Good’s Digital Giving Index found that about 30 percent of online dona­tions on their platform in 2015 — nearly $250 million to more than 40,000 non­profits — took place in December.

Despite gen­erous inten­tions, the money you’re donating probably won’t have the effects you imagine — and might even wreak unin­tended havoc.

Most of the third-party char­i­table orga­ni­za­tions that handle your money don’t use it to the most helpful ends, argues “Poverty, Inc.,” a 2014 doc­u­mentary pro­duced by the Acton Institute. They often flood money or goods into an impov­er­ished com­munity, stripping the local people of the ability to help them­selves and glutting a market that would oth­erwise work smoothly on its own in the long run, the film points out.

For example, the film crit­i­cizes the trendy TOMS shoes orga­ni­zation, which donates a pair of shoes to a poor person for every pair bought in the U.S. The slip-on shoes used to be made in local Argen­tinian com­mu­nities. But with free ones coming in, local shoe­makers found them­selves out of business.

A church sending eggs to Rwanda and the U.S. gov­ernment dumping free rice on Haiti created similar problems, the film explains — putting local people out of work by giving them goods they could produce them­selves.

Ulti­mately, the film demon­strates, projects and orga­ni­za­tions like these are all too common, and they do more harm than good. By flooding impov­er­ished markets with goods, even well-inten­tioned char­ities aren’t just hurting the economy but also treating poor people as if they’re inca­pable, material con­sumers, not cre­ative entre­pre­neurs worth the investment of our time and effort.

The problem affects domestic charity efforts, too.

“Our society … has been all too willing to write off some subset of our neighbors, seeing them as burdens to be managed at minimal expense. We must reject this,” writes Arthur Brooks, pres­ident of the American Enter­prise Institute, in his dis­cussion of American poverty in his book “The Con­ser­v­ative Heart.” Instead, he argues, people should be treated as assets who can create value and who want to earn their success — and that requires investment of our time to help them.

Thoughtless material giving makes a con­de­scending assumption, what Covenant College pro­fessors Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, authors of “When Helping Hurts,” call “resource pater­nalism.”  By dumping goods or money on a com­munity, we’re implying that the local people can’t help them­selves with their own cre­ativity, skills, and hard work — that they need to subsist on our excess goods.

Moreover, material giving assumes that poverty is a material problem, which is true only to an extent. Cer­tainly, physical needs should be met with physical goods like food and clothing, espe­cially in the wake of dis­asters. Pro­viding material goods can be an effective min­istry, but as a long-term solution, it won’t suffice.

“Poverty is rooted in broken rela­tion­ships,” write Fikkert and Corbett. The solution, then, is in building rela­tion­ships, not just making sure the poor have the food and clothes they need.

And that requires a lot more work than a one-click bank-account transfer or sending a check in the mail. It requires your time and involvement, espe­cially in your local com­munity, where you can sustain lasting rela­tion­ships.

Local vol­un­teering is incon­ve­nient in the holiday season, but it’s much more rewarding. Forego a few hours at the shopping mall to spend time working at the local food pantry, sorting clothes at a preg­nancy center, or tutoring a nearby student. Make a meal for a family at your church. Get to know your neighbor, and find out if they need yard work or a babysitter.

Love your actual neighbor — someone within your reach, whose needs you know and with whom you can build a long-term rela­tionship with.

An hour of vol­un­teering is worth $24.14, according to the Inde­pendent Sector — far more than the average mil­lennial wage. But regardless of mon­etary value, vol­un­teering is a better method of self-sac­rifice. It’s more reflective of Christ, who took time to dine with the poor and the sinners and talk with children and humble women, and who’s sup­posed to be the center of attention this time of year.

It’s not wrong to give on #Giv­ingTuesday. If you do it next year, take the time to research the orga­ni­za­tions you donate to. Make sure they treat poor people as cre­ative, tal­ented, and capable, and that they seek to establish rela­tion­ships.

Give money, thought­fully — and don’t be sat­isfied with your gen­erosity till you’ve given away a lot of your time.


Nicole Ault is a junior studying eco­nomics.