In Response to “Why I’m Not Donating to Jessica Ahlquist’s Scholarship Fund”

Author Emily Dietle

My focus is on state-church separation & social issues. I'm an avid reader, and feel that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. | @emilyhasbooks

Dave Muscato, super atheist and really cool dude recently blogged about why he’s not donating to Jessica Ahlquist’s Scholarship fund.  Whereas it’s important to analyze the effectiveness of charitable donations, I think Dave came to the wrong conclusion.

I know that supporting one of our own is very exciting and feels like the right thing to do. And it is the right thing to do—Jess deserves and indeed has earned our support.

But there are plenty of ways to support someone: financially, emotionally, morally, etc. Financially, I want to make clear, is only one way to do that.

That’s where I feel Dave should have stopped.  Yes, donating money is not the only way to support someone, there are plenty of other actions that can be done, and many of us have acted in support of Jessica with blog posts, public support, flowers, tweets, and spreading her story.

I find it easy to agree with Dave that it’s very important to think critically and assess the impact your charitable donation will have.  When thinking about Jessica and the work she’s already done to support church-state separation and promote positive values, and the commitment she has to continuing these efforts, I feel strongly that putting Jessica through college is a valuable and direct investment into the atheist community that will reap huge benefits.  No amount of personal references, endorsements, or publicity will pay for her college education, it’s the dollars that count.

For those that can donate to this cause, they should. Your donations will not limit the amount of funds going elsewhere, for when you make a charitable donation once, you’re far more likely to again… and the more awareness & excitement there is around this campaign to raise money for Jessica, there will likely be more zest spreading outwards to other fundraising campaigns for organizations like RDFRS, CFI, FFRF and more.

In a response to my initial reply on Dave’s blog, he asks, “Would it matter if Jess’s parents were millionnaires?”  Yes, that would be something to consider.  If her family did not need the financial assistance, there would have been a polite decline for the funds by now.  As that has not occured, I gather that it’s safe to assume that any donations are needed and much appreciated.

I disagree with your statement, “Their donations will not limit the amount of funds going elsewhere, for when you make a charitable donation once, you’re more likely to [donate] again.” That is a non-sequitur.

Dave is right, this was a hastily written response and contained a non-sequitur, so let me re-phrase- It cannot be safely said that donating to Jessica’s cause is taking funds away from other organizations, as the monies given to her scholarship might not have gone to any organization; and by contributing to this cause, the donee may be more apt to give again.

As far as the idea that people who make a charitable donation once are more likely to [donate] again, is that actually true? I mean, do you have some empirical backing for this claim? It makes intuitive sense, but at the same time, I could see just as easily how someone might tell him- or herself, “I’ve done my share of being generous for today,” and decide NOT to donate to something else on account of feeling like they’ve already contributed their fair share.

Good point, which is why I rephrased my conclusion in the blog post, as opposed to what was written in my initial reply.  I don’t have empirical backing, though I looked for it, and I’d love to see a study on it.  As for those who would decide not to donate anymore because they “already contributed their fair share,” I’m sure they exist, but to what degree is that more likely, compared to those that would feel compelled to keep giving in the future?