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What do you think primarily motivates charitable gestures by the very rich?

1) Generosity: people who are not really aware of income inequality and genuinely feel they are doing good by being charitable.

2) Cynicism: people who are aware they make way more money than the efforts of one person can possibly justify but rather than calling for reform or just paying their employees more they like to keep most of the money for themselves, donating a small portion to charity to boost their image and buy off dissent among the people.

3) Pragmatism: people who aware they make way too much but believe they can't change the system and use their wealth (and the tax deduction) to direct as much money as possible to causes that they champion and (in their eyes) get too little attention from the government.

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    Sep 19 2012: yeah because, you know, rich people are like some sort of hive mind, they are all alike. they are simple like an insect. so we can just generally analyze the actions of the "rich men". they are not like ordinary people with complex reasons and emotions, driven by compassion, religion, education, peer influence, desire to blend in, sudden impulse, personal relation, and all these things. "rich men" are more like the weather, we can use physics to understand them.
    • Sep 19 2012: Do you not know the meaning of the word "primarily"?

      Have I struck a nerve?
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        Sep 19 2012: from my understanding of Krisztian's post, that is exactly the word that he's criticizing, not about the lack of understanding of the question at hand.
        • Sep 19 2012: All 3 motivations are unlikely to play an equal role, so one wil be the primary motivation, even if it's just 34% vs 33% and 33%.
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        Sep 19 2012: Yeah, but I think it can be very misleading if you call it "primary". If you set it up to where one motivation is only 1% more than the others, calling that the primary motivation makes the other two motivations sound more insignificant than they actually are.

        Based on first impression, calling something the primary cause would mean something like this is the major cause that is way greater in quantity than the number 2 or number 3 cause.
        • Sep 19 2012: It's way more likely to be 80 - 15 - 5 or something like that, I was just pointing out that you don't need to assume the very rich are a hive mind (though that's actually not as strange as it sounds because there are not many very rich people in the world and they are likely to be related to each other and/or socialize frequently) for there to be a primary motivation.
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        Sep 19 2012: Well I wasn't assuming anything, I was just giving precaution that using the word "primary" in a 34-33-33 situation can be misleading.

        I do agree that there should be some similar quality that all rich people have besides their similar wealthy statuses. And I think it's worth studying what that similarity/difference is among the rich guys.
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    Sep 21 2012: I like to think 3. Might be a bit naive, but there are enough rich people out there who no longer support anything charitable, so I'd like to think the ones that do engage in the practice, actually mean well, and feel the system is unfixable. Might be a bit naive.

    I would also add that while some charitable donations, really don't do any good, some do wonderful things... and not necessarily the ones you would expect. Trusts, that leave theatres, or libraries, with enough money to pay employees and keep running through hard times, allow an entire community access to the jobs, entertainment, and information in a not for profit environment, during times of economic distress.

    Art Galleries built by trusts do the same... Often people forget that the 30k a year job standing behind an often empty counter, is still someones "art gallery dream job". A lot of those places lose money 9 months a year, but some rich person keeps their doors open. It's easy to say "that's the nonsense charity"... but donating directly to food production in America, kills farming jobs around the world... Donating to an art gallery creates dream jobs.
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    Sep 19 2012: I believe they have a genuine desire to improve the state of mankind, and their wealth gives them the ability to do that. By the way, you've phrased your question in such a way as to show your deep, deep bias against the very rich, and your responses below show that you'll not tolerate any reply that does not villify the very rich. It's regretable that your own bigotry won't allow you to have a civilized conversation on this subject.
    • Sep 19 2012: I tolerate your answer (which would be 1) ), and Fritzie's below (which would be 3) ). I just don't tolerate mindless propaganda that says every breath they take they take for the betterment of mankind, maybe it's because I'm not an American.
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        Sep 19 2012: Since you have no control over the responses posted here, it seems foolish to talk about you're tolerating them. There is anger and hatred in each of your responses. I hope you are able to reflect inward and determine what's really driving your feelings on this subject.
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    Gail .

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    Sep 26 2012: There is a proven inverse relationship between wealth and charitable contributions.

    I was surprised to learn this, and only did after I did some basic math and went looking for an answer.

    Some years ago, after Ross Perot ruined his chances to become president, he built a community center in Texas, and it seemed to me to be a way to redeem his tarnished reputation. The gift was somewhere around 350 million dollars, which by any account seemed a geneerous gift. There was a lot of fanfare and much media attention. But I, knowing his net worth, did some calculations. His 350 million dollars was the equivalent of my 8 cents, and I certainly give far more than 8 cents to causes that I want to help in.

    You have also neglected some reasons.

    One is guilt. That works for the smaller donors.

    Another is social responsibility.

    But another is social connections and/or upward mobility. When you have enough money, charitable donations are an investment, and those investments pay handsome rewards. You are invited to sit on boards of directors, where you get to mingle with other high-power people (while getting paid large fees). You can leverage your seat on the board for any number of things - from seats on other boards that serve your own financial interests well, to political power hidden by the invisibility cloak of charity.
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      Sep 26 2012: we are on the same page with this

      so my question is, does it matter where the money comes from?

      Should charities turn back money that comes from questionable sources or from exploitation (eg the Nestle Company's notorious exploitation of people and communities in water harvesting or the example I gave above of the college board chairman forced to resign from Barclays in disgrace for fiddling the Libor but carried on by the college because he has been so generous with them)

      If all charities required strict credit for donations, would people still give? At some level aren't most donors buying "prestige" when their name appears in the event program or credits?
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        Sep 26 2012: ok i will answer your first queation" does it matter where the money comes from?"
        that is a good queation
        my answer is yes ...we should know thses people that have donated . they are doing omething good .why not ..this case remind me of a government problem that many government do not open their finatiual we can not inspect.our money may be swolled by the official.isnt it ?
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          Sep 26 2012: thank you chen..I quite agree.

          so what should the policy be of charitable and cultural intsititutions?

          refusing money from known culprits like the Barclays bank guy at Colby?

          Strict anonymity o all sources? ( I don't like that one as it has huge problems with transparency, which as you say is so important in all things)
  • Sep 20 2012: To feel good about something.

    Over use of power, constant abuse of hedonistic pleasures, workaholism, prolonged win at any cost behaviors all lead to desensitization of the soul.

    Charitable acts stimulate the senses and may be even provide an artificial sense of self-worth, lacking any other..
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    Sep 19 2012: My guess is that the dominant reasons are empathy and a desire to use their situations in a way that will benefit those less fortunate than they are. Some TED talks that make the case for doing good as a path to happiness are Tony Robbins and Martin Seligman. Neither suggests that the potency (in terms of personal happiness) of doing good is related to income demographic.

    One could perhaps get some handle on this question by looking at specific cases rather than asking in general. One can't generalize accurately from a few cases, of course, but it can provide specific data to start with.

    People like Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet... I have to believe these and other noteworthy extremely wealthy people are on the record for why they say they give what they do to the causes they do.
    Here is one research paper related to this subject:
    Here is a literature review. If you scan down to the annotated biblio, you will see some papers have addressed the variety of motivations of wealthy donors.
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    Sep 19 2012: What motivates rich people is the same thing that motivates them in business which is to help people, they realize that we are all in the same boat. Realize these people's actions speak for themselves in that they raise the standard of living of their customer. In other words they are not glib.

    What is completely irrelevant is the Wilkinson meme who is the epitome of glib, and your 3 conjectures.
    • Sep 19 2012: "What motivates rich people is the same thing that motivates them in business which is to help people,"

      The very rich don't work, they watch their stock go up, or their trust fund collect interest. Why do you believe rich people would work to help people? Most non-rich people don't work for that reason, why would the rich, and if so, why wouldn't they just pay their employees more or lower their prices if they want to raise the standard of living of the people?
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        Sep 19 2012: Rich people are some of the hardest working people I have seen if anything that is their one common characteristic.

        The primary purpose of most people is to help.

        Quit drinking the Kool Aid and LOOK for yourself.
        • Sep 19 2012: Which rich people do you know? FYI I wasn't talking about surgeons, I was talking about the very rich, most of whom do not work (though they may have in the past).

          How is keeping so much wealth for yourself going to help others? Why not let the company you own stock in use the room that profit provides to lower prices, raise wages or invest more in R&D? Every single study done concludes that an increase in income inequality make a country worse off because consumers have less purchasing power, workers feel like they're being underpaid, political powers becomes concentrated and social mobility goes down. And at the core, nobody contributes enough to the world to justify receiving the wealth of a billionaire and great people (like Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong and Mother Teresa) don't pretend that they do, only the phonies do, the swindlers and husslers who buy politicians to have laws rewritten for them, who sell toxic mortgages 500 times until some sucker falls for it.
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        Sep 19 2012: Who helped mankind more Michael Milken or Sister Teresa?
        • Sep 19 2012: Really? Michale Milken? A man who never created wealth, he only shifted it around, and even destroyed wealth because of his fraudulent practices that discouraged investment (some of which must have been investment in useful things) and is hoarding many, many natural resources for himself? That's the guy you want to compare to Mother Theresa? Why do people always forget that while Milken may have given $100 million to medical research, he stole billions of dollars from corporations and consumers.You think his $100 million donation is going to do more than all the donations and investments consumers and corporations would have made if they had not lost $2 billion to Milken?

          You sound like an easy target: I can rob you blind and then give you a $5 for the subway and you'd believe I was being charitable for giving you "my" $5.

          Until someone single handedly saves the planet from an alien invasion nobody deserves to be a billionaire, it's just not humanly possible to contribute so much when there are only 24 hours in a day.
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        Sep 19 2012: "nobody deserves to be a billionaire"

        And that is your real point.

        Plenty of people deserve to be a billionaire are as they have raised the standard of living of many.
        • Sep 19 2012: "And that is your real point."


          "Plenty of people deserve to be a billionaire are as they have raised the standard of living of many."

          BS, nobody contributes 100.000 times more to the standard of living than a worker. Not even Albert Einstein. You may be referring to technological progress benefitting many people but most billionaires can barely put a PC together, they never invented anything and the ones that do can't possibly be entitled to the wealth that gets released by the invention across the world and through the ages, because that would mean that a) inventors deserve more compensation if the world population is larger, b) every parent would be entitled to unlimited wealth because of the contributions their descendants will offer to the world, c) it's not like the invention wouldn't have been done by someone else a few years later, d) most inventors had help, e) an invention itself does not improve the world, for that to happen millions of workers and engineers have to implement and produce it over and over, without them the invention is worthless, f) every worker can also claim unlimited wealth because he helped to feed, cloth or shelter an inventor, or he just paid the taxes that provided for the inventor's scholarship and so made the invention possible.

          It's much more rational to look at someone's level of personal effort. Whether you're a scientist or someone doing backbreaking physical labor, in both cases you contribute 8 hours of effort per day that helps society, in whatever way comes natural to you. The scientists doesn't have to be motivated to be a scientist because he dislikes backbreaking physical labor and the laborer doesn't have to motivate to labor because he dislikes doing math. But as I said, most people get rich in the financial sector, probably doing more harm than good to scoiety when playing with derivatives they don't understand and serve no purpose other than to enrich bankers.
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        Sep 21 2012: John, I took your question pretty seriously until I saw this exchange with Pat. I'm afraid I agree with both Pat and Krisztian in their responses here. People are complex and do things for their own reasons, which cannot typically be boiled down to 3 or 4 broad categories. I'm sure most truly mean to make a difference in the world, while not being irresponsible with their resources.

        Rich people (even the ultra rich) are also typically VERY hard working and carry daily schedules that would likely exhaust most other people. Although there are exceptions to every generalization, in percentage terms, I believe the days of the idle rich reached their peak from Victorian times through about the 1930s. I don't have any data to back up that perception but it's probably about as sound an argument as yours that "the very rich don't work."

        It's a great fantasy to believe that if a person can just get enough wealth, they can just sit back and enjoy it for the rest of their lives, and I'm sure that's what drives the success of lotteries. Unfortunately, watching stock portfolios magically rise, while sitting by the pool 24x7 is indeed just a fantasy.
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    Sep 26 2012: Guilt.

    It is a form of moral money laundering.

    A way of buying esteem.

    In Maine at the moment we have a classic example. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, a venerable and well respected old Maine college was right in the middle of the fiddle on the Libor and forced to resign from Barclay's. He has been a principal contributor to the school all through this time where the source of his wealth actually undermines opportunity for young people in Maine and globally.

    The college hasn't asked for nor has he offered his resignation.

    This moral money laundering thing is a two way street. The people who don't dare worry about where the money comes from keep it all going.

    Also, at least in our tax code, what constitutes "charitable contribution" is pretty wide open and 100% tax deductible.I would love to see an analysis of what these charitable contributions are actually supporting.

    ALEC, the lobbying arm of plutocrats and the Koch Brothers, had charitable status until recently.
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    Sep 22 2012: Some donations are motivated by genuine concern for the less privileged, from a sincerely caring heart, and from a desire to make a difference.

    Some donations are motivated by the desire for public approval(to be percieved as good and numbered among philantropists).

    Some do give because of guilt; or because they've been told of the advantages of giving. These kind of people may do it just for the expected benefit or because they've been convinced that their gifts would change lives.

    Even though most people assume that rich folks are giving for a certain reason; but I think people have various reasons for giving.

    And each giver knows within himself or herself whether the giving is from a good heart or from a selfish heart.
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    Sep 20 2012: Guilt. (sometimes).
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    Sep 19 2012: 4) Tax benefits?
  • Sep 19 2012: Tax deductions.
    • Sep 19 2012: Right, good point, I'll add that to 3).
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    Sep 19 2012: This is a character study question, so what is there to gain from doing charitable actions for some rich guy?

    Possible answers:
    - Image
    - Moral Obligation
    - Satisfaction
    - Power
    - Materialism
    - Building/Reinforcing Social Connections