When the Russian-Ukraine conflict broke out, many around the world were looking for ways to provide support to the beleaguered Ukrainian people. Interestingly, booking Airbnbs in major Ukrainian cities like Kyiv – without any intention of staying there – became popular . With more than 61,000 nights booked and nearly $2 million raised, these novel acts of charitable giving seemed one of the most effective ways to support Ukrainians financially. In fact, charitable giving takes several different forms and includes giving time and effort besides money and goods to charitable organisations and the beneficiaries they serve. While it has been argued that charitable giving has at times been under the altruistic guise of selfish intentions in exchange for pragmatic benefits, I would still argue that charitable giving is largely desirable. Regardless of the intentions, charitable giving has collectively made significant contributions to help the marginalised in society. With a genuine heart and intention to serve, charitable giving has also shaped the core values of benevolence and empathy that make us truly ‘human’. When managed properly to avoid extreme situations such as compassion fatigue, charitable giving is arguably desirable as it seems only right that we, as members of our communities and the human race, do our part to make our society a more caring and a warmer place to live in.


For a start, charitable giving is desirable as it has made significant strides in helping the needy – be it financially, physically or emotionally – and these fulfilled outcomes may otherwise not be achieved without such contributions. Although the effectiveness of government aid schemes varies across countries, the common consensus is that charitable giving is still very much needed to boost the social support networks in society. Countries such as Australia have been implementing charitable giving schemes to ensure the health and well-being of groups like the elderly. In Melbourne, the Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) brings together older people receiving aged care with volunteers from the community for friendship and companionship. Chatting over coffee, taking a stroll or watching shows together are but some of the ways how charitable giving is not only meaningful, but enjoyable for both parties too. More importantly, it is desirable in ensuring that the emotional needs of some marginalised groups in society are met through forging close relationships in the long run. Besides, charitable giving has also been consistently at the forefront of support during natural disasters or humanitarian crises. Notably, the aid response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was unprecedented for a natural disaster. The World Food Programme delivered 110,000 tonnes of food to the tsunami zone to feed more than 2 million people during the humanitarian crisis, and a colossal $6.25bn was donated to a central UN relief fund assisting 14 countries including Indonesia and Sri Lanka. While individual charitable donations may seem insignificant, they collectively contributed to successful efforts to provide water and sanitation, rebuild destroyed housing and construct early warning systems to reduce the impact of future tsunamis in these developing countries. Moreover, the value of charitable giving is attested in its ability to materialise almost miraculous outcomes through the collective power of giving. In Singapore, nearly $2.9 million was recently raised in 10 days to treat a baby’s neuromuscular disorder with the world’s most expensive drug. These examples clearly demonstrate the significance of charitable giving not simply in financial or emotional support but for a much larger purpose, such as saving precious lives that could have potentially been lost without the massive outpour of support rendered during challenging times, or ensuring the health and well-being of beneficiaries in the long-run.


Moreover, by providing aid to different beneficiaries, charitable giving is seen as a desirable way to develop empathy and compassion in us. In the long-run, it may even be part of governmental aims to build the ‘heartware’ of societies through whole-of-society approaches, by implementing policies, community infrastructure and services. Countries such as Singapore have embarked on public education campaigns to imbue these values from a young age. The ‘Singapore Kindness Movement’ (SKF), for example, aims to help build a gracious Singapore, by encouraging individuals to internalise courtesy, kindness and consideration. In the Seed Kindness Fund, SKF supports kindness community projects by youths aged 14–26 years old with up to $1,000 funding per project. It provides invaluable opportunities for youths to take ownership of their contributions to the community through Values In Action (VIA) projects such as fundraising or volunteering initiatives. Besides, at an individual level, charitable giving is also seen as a meaningful way to contribute to the community while broadening one’s perspectives. Voluntourism, for instance, offers tourist volunteers an emotionally charged experience by alleviating poverty at places such as Cambodia and Guatemala. These include teaching the young or building basic amenities for some impoverished families in these countries. Therefore, charitable giving is desirable as it provides avenues for us to invest time, effort or money in causes we deeply resonate in and find significant fulfillment and purpose amidst the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.


Yet, while it is undeniable that charitable giving is highly desirable by helping the needy or developing empathy in us, it has been argued that these acts of charity have been nothing but a façade – while we appear to be altruistic, charitable giving has seemingly been regarded as a means to an end for some. An oft-cited argument is that philanthropy is seen as something the rich do to either flaunt their wealth or intentionally curate a veneer of altruism and respectability. In fact, it has been argued that these acts of pretence attempt to divert public scrutiny from their unethical acts such as labour exploitation or environmental devastation. A notable example is Harvey Weinstein who in 2017 had at least 80 women accused the renowned filmmaker of sexually abusing them, sparking the #MeToo movement. Ironically, while Weinstein was allegedly preying on women in the film industry, he was also donating millions to various causes, including progressive female politicians. An apparent effort to whitewash his name came when he pledged $5 million to the University of Southern California film school toward a scholarship fund for female filmmakers. Unfortunately, it has been argued that these acts of hypocrisy are not limited to adults as even the young have seemingly been utilising charitable giving for pragmatic purposes, such as to boost their portfolios and enter competitive institutions around the world. Ivy League College Coaches have been in high demand as parents willingly fork out large sums of money to help their children secure a seat in elite institutions such as Harvard, Yale or Princeton University in the United States or Seoul University, Korea University, and Yonsei University in South Korea. Beyond academic excellence, these coaches incorporate community service in students’ portfolios along with other sporting or musical achievements, believing that these help students stand out among the sea of candidates as all-rounded achievers with values of compassion and empathy for the needy. Regrettably, charitable giving is arguably undesirable when it has been utilised for pragmatic means that certainly deviates from the original intention of genuinely helping the needy in society.


Moreover, charitable giving is undesirable when it leads to extreme situations of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a term that describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others often through experiences of stress or trauma. While compassion fatigue is less commonly seen in ordinary volunteers and more commonly observed in medical professionals or caregivers, it can occur when charitable giving becomes overwhelming. Causes include long hours and excessive demands, or being physically or verbally threatened when providing care, being confronted with suicide or threats of suicide by beneficiaries, providing care in dangerous environments or to someone who experiences depression, grief, and bereavement. Such forms of service can be stressful, tiring and even traumatising when these experiences start to affect one’s thoughts, mood and well-being outside of work. In a study on volunteers from all 185 licensed animal shelters in the state of Michigan, perceived acts of animal cruelty and trauma such as euthanasia have increased compassion fatigue in animal shelter employees. In South Korea, it has also been found that since hospice volunteers are faced with death, dying, and grief on a daily basis, this may lead to long-term negative mental health issues such as stress or burnout. Although instances of overwhelming fatigue from charitable giving may be rare or uncommon, it is still a cause for concern that should be noted and tackled with regard to the extent of charitable giving or causes of charitable giving that may place volunteers at a higher risk of compassion fatigue.


Overall, I would argue that charitable giving is still largely desirable despite concerns of compassion fatigue or ungenuine acts of charity as fortunately, rising awareness of self-care and mental wellness has enabled more people to manage their emotions and well-being in charitable giving. We should remain optimistic as there are many who are genuinely concerned for the needy in society and contribute their time, effort or money for the greater good. In the societal strive for excellence and development, it is important that we remember the basis of what makes us truly ‘human’ for it is the acts of charitable giving – small and big – that enable us to touch the lives of the marginalised and enlighten our souls in the process.