Giving, what’s your motivation?

“I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them and I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.” – Dr. Alice Howland, Sill Alice


My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease. It was discovered four years ago in 2011 but to be honest many in the family has suspected it for a long time before that. Forgetting where you put your keys is one thing, insisting that the city must have moved the airport, as he once did, is a bit more serious.

He was always, in my opinion at least, a bit eccentric.  He was slow to make decisions, a bit of a hoarder, always worried that he would throw something away that he would later find a use for, etc. But that behavior is not really associated with Alzheimer’s, that’s just a fact of life when you grow up without a lot of money and learned to recycle and reuse things long before it was politically correct to do so. The real signs of the disease started appearing around 2007. The incident where he couldn’t find the airport happened in 2009.

Today he lives in a long term care facility and my wife and I visit him on Wednesday afternoons. He’s not the same.

Last week I watched two different takes on the progression of the disease. The first was a TED Talk about exciting new research into a potential cure. Watch it [here]. The other was the Oscar award winning film Still Alice about a Columbia University professor who develops an early onset version of the disease. Both left me with the feeling that Alzheimer’s Disease is an unjustly cruel way to die.

Dying of Alzheimer’s Disease is in a way the death of your mental capacity cognitive ability and personality while your body remains functional. In the early stages at least, it’s almost as if you are watching yourself become a zombie. I later stages you are a zombie, completely unable to make sense of the world you inhabit.

Why am I telling you all of this on a personal finance blog?


Well because I’m sitting here this morning looking at a donation request from the Alzheimer Society and debating how much money I can afford to give them this year. I want to give a lot, out of respect and support for the man my father-in-law once was but I also have limited resources. So I’m asking myself the hard questions about what is the responsible amount to give?

Philanthropy is one of my personal favorite topics. I love the idea of “loving humanity” with my resources. (The Greek form of the word Philanthropist means lover of humanity.) But when does philanthropy shift from a loving expression to selfish ambition, from altruism to egotism?

The government doesn’t help. In Ontario, where I live, you receive a tax credit of 46% on every dollar, over a non-refundable annual minimum of $200, donated to a recognized charity. That means that to give away $1000 over the course of the year reduces your taxable income by $460. Which begs the question, when does philanthropy become more of a tax strategy than an act of kindness?

And let’s not forget what God has to say about supporting your own household and keeping food on the table:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. [1 Timothy 5:8]

So when does philanthropy stop being an act of love and turn into an act of hatred toward those closest to you?

It’s all very confusing and difficult to reconcile. I’m sorry I haven’t given a lot of answers. At the end of the day philanthropy is a noble pursuit provided that you:

  1. Can afford it
  2. Understand the tax implications
  3. Do it out of genuine compassion – and
  4. Give to a reputable agency that won’t squander your hard earned money.

For more information on philanthropy and how best to leave a legacy write to:

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