Monday, October 3, 2011

Too Many Choices

Nora Kann Fliegen- Flikr

So here's what I am having a hard time with right now: which awesome causes deserve to get my money? Is it better to pick one or two and give them a lot, or spread small amounts all over the place? Do hungry kids in the horn of Africa need help more, or suffering dogs in puppy mills, or wounded war veterans?

When I worked for Nationwide Insurance, there was an option to give a designated amount of money to The United Way. Nationwide matched the donation, so you basically doubled your investment. It was a great way to give a relatively large amount of money painlessly. It was a no brainer for me- I contributed every year.

The VA has a similar option, with one BIG difference: there are literally hundreds of charities to pick from. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but for the past two years I have become paralyzed by the number of choices. The deadline passes each year without my selection, so no money gets donated.

I have a similar problem with mail solicitations. I think that St. Jude's Hospital is a great cause that deserves my money, but so is NPR, and the UF Alumni Association, and Heifer International, and a hundred others. I get a few requests each week and I just can't seem to pick who needs to money most. On top of that my amazing church is always trying to help some organization or another, and I volunteer at a clinic that serves homeless people and could always use a donation.

I read a pretty good book a few years ago that kind of explains this: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. It's about how the huge number of options available to us can make it more difficult to make a decision. Schwartz writes about the concept of "optimizers:" people who want so badly to make the perfect decision that they get stuck, and don't make a decision at all. In general I think that I'm a decisive person, but when it comes to giving financial gifts I get a little overwhelmed. I have the same problem with home improvement projects, but that's a topic for another post.

This whole getting stuck doing things exactly right is not unique: Devon from Answering Oliver writes about almost not graduating high school because of "perfection paralysis." J.D. Roth writes that the perfect is the enemy of the good on Get Rich Slowly. Schwartz tells us that this indecisiveness is the natural consequence of a culture oversaturated with choices. But the bottom line is that if I don't make a choice, I'm not helping anyone.

I have made some inroads on this problem. I signed up to sponsor a child through Child Fund International. I am making automatic monthly donations to the Humane Society. And this year, when it comes time to pick a charity to donate to at the VA, I have already decided on a charity and an amount.

My point (and I do have one) is that if you don't make a decision, if you do nothing, you aren't helping anyone. So put perfection aside and make a choice already. Now that I have picked some charities to sponsor, I feel relieved that the decision is made, rather than worried that I made the wrong choice.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and make a decision- you'll be glad you did!

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