When you dig into your pocket to donate to charity, do you look over your shoulder to see if anyone's watching? According to a new academic paper, if you do you're not alone: "Conspicuous giving" has become the norm.
Instead of a quiet, private act, charitable giving has become a status symbol – one that comes with social pressure and manipulation, according to a National Post report about a paper to be presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Waterloo, Ont., on Wednesday.
Call it the Angelina Jolie effect.
"In the rampantly consumerist Western society of the 21st century, conspicuous giving has become the true status marker," Margrit Talpalaru, a University of Alberta English and film studies instructor, writes. "Charitable donors, especially famous ones, have become modern-day heroes, while ordinary people are being judged by their giving."
She points out that the trend has culminated in "philanthrocapitalism," with billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates vowing to give away most of their vast wealth.
"You can see how celebrity culture, celebrity activism trickles down and puts these pressures on everyday people like you and I donating more time or money and to win stuff for charity," she said. "The competition that is so prized by capitalism now has to be tinged with the moral value of giving to charity. It's no longer good enough that you're good at something, you've won something, you have to give at least part of it to charity."
That leaves fundraisers and individuals open to exploitation and corporate interests that may stray from the original do-good impulse, Talpalaru argues. On a smaller scale, she says, the social expectation to, say, take donations instead of gifts at birthdays or other social occasions can be unwelcome.
"The only pitfall is to follow blindly," she told the Post.
Are you conspicuous about your charitable giving? When was the last time you made a donation that no one but the charity knew about?