A weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine is a column by Randy Cohen called “The Ethicist,” in which people raise ethical questions to which Cohen provides answers. The question below is from the column that appeared on April 4, 2003.
At my high school, various clubs and organizations sponsor charity drives, asking students to bring in money, food, and clothing. Some teachers offer bonus points on tests and final averages as incentives to participate. Some parents believe that this sends a morally wrong message, undermining the value of charity as a selfless act. Is the exchange of donations for grades O.K.?
The practice of offering incentives for charitable acts is widespread, from school projects to fund drives by organizations such as public television stations, to federal income tax deductions for contributions to charities. In a well-written essay, develop a position on the ethics of offering incentives for charitable acts. Support your position with evidence from your reading, observation, and/or experience.
This is the prompt for the 2007 AP student example essays. Use it as you score the two essays.
Utilitarian philosophers through the ages have assented a simple maxim: good is “what creates the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.” The you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours nature of incentives for charities benefits both parties and fits easily in with this simple yet effective definition of good. As such, and aided by the examples of life experiences and simple economics, it is clear that there is nothing unethical about offering incentives for charitable acts.
Charity has always been a most generous form of aid, that has affected many people throughout the course of time. It was the act of charity that helped people after 9/11, Katrina, and many other natural and unnatural disasters. I do believe that it is OK to give incentives for charitable acts. I support my position on reading, my observation of human nature, and my experiences with the church.
Having participated in and donated to many charities in my life, it has become apparent to me that not only is there nothing wrong with offering incentives for charitable acts, incentives make the charities more productive. Our school recently had a month-long fundraiser for breast cancer research involving events such as pennies for patients (donate change), stuck for a buck (for the price of $1 you may add a piece of tape to those attaching a friend and/or teacher to a wall) and the burrito mile (pay $10, get a $5 burrito and be involved in a mile run). These events raised money in proportion to how amusing they were for students, namely, pennies for patients, the least, stuck for a buck in the middle, and the most money (by a healthy margin) raised through the burrito mile. Those that provided the most incentive raised the most money providing greater happiness for the recipients, of donations and the donaters themselves, a perfect fit for utilitarian ethics. The story was the same for the “save Darfur” club. It was the save Darfur benefit concert (quite an entertaining incentive) that raised the most money when compared with simple requests for donations. Not only was more money raised, but the people donating received benefits as well; greater happiness for a greater number. Charitable incentives raise more money and make the donors happy, doing more good than raw charity and proving themselves ethical.
With many books that I read, some have had the theme of, “Good deeds don’t go unpunished.” It is that statement that makes me believe incentives are OK. Charity is a good deed that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Even though its’ up to one person to give, they should receive something in return.
Basic economics further display the advantage in incentives for charity. People feel loath to give money away, but will happily spend $1 for a soft drink that cost 5 cents to produce. Following the same logic, it might be difficult to get people to donate $1 but will pay the same amount for something dramatically less valuable and the profit can be given to charity. Not only this, but in a capitalist society such as our own, people prefer to see people “making their way” than “asking for a handout.” This is apparent when people buy girl scout cookies. Some people (my family included) buy the cookies, never to eat them, but would politely decline if a girl scout came to their door and said, “Would you give me some money?” Charities function best, and sometimes only function all, when incentive is attached to charitable contribution. Because incentives increase the ability of charities to do good, they are, in fact, ethical.
Another form of evidence to support my thesis is my observation on human nature. It is without a doubt that more than 50% of people are selfish. Some people more selfish than others but in todays world it’s hard to give and not want something in return. With incentives it motivates people to give above and beyond to help. It is sad that people need to be motivated to give, but as long as they give the world can move or assist these people who are in need of help.
Some may argue that incentives for charity undermine “the value of charity as a selfless act,” but they fail to understand that selflessness is not the primary value of charity. It is true that selflessness is a commendable character trait and equally true that incentives take some of the altruism out of charity. On the other hand, to suppose that the value and purpose of charity lie in the selflessness and altruism of the donor (be it time, money, anything) is to ignore the true purpose of charity is to help the helpless, to defend the defenseless, to do good. The bottom line is that the value of the charity lies in the good it does for its cause, not in the moral uprightness of the donors. The poor don’t care if donations come from the goodness of our hearts or our attempts to doge taxes, they care about the help they need. Because incentives allow charities to give more help, furthering their primary benefit to society, the incentives are both ethical and good.
Finally, I stand behind my thesis is from a personal experience. My church was throwing a gathering for children. There were prizes, games, and music, as incentives. Even though people had to have incentives to come, they were there. They enjoyed themselves and were having fun. There were at least over 200 children and teenagers there. Finally, the question was asked if anyone wanted to be saved. They chose their fate. They had to be motivated to get there but once they were, they chose for themselves. It’s the same with charity. Once people are motivated they then can help.
Through reading, observation of human nature, and personal experience, I have come to the conclusion that incentives aren’t that bad.
AP SCORE ESSAY A _____________ AP SCORE ESSAY C__________________
COMMENTS: Make a TChart and write comments for both essays on the back of this sheet.