Athletes Are Doing Charity Wrong

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 27 2013 2:01 PM

Carmelo Anthony Is a Hero of Philanthropy More Athletes Should Emulate

Carmelo Anthony, No. 7 of the New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, No. 7 of the New York Knicks

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The skills that make you a successful professional baseball player may earn you a lot of money, but they're unlikely to turn you into an effective foundation manager. And yet, as a great Callum Borches piece in the Boston Globe observes, a lot of athletes try to parlay their wealth into charitable activities and often seem to end up wasting a lot of money in the process on high-cost fundraisers and other kinds of churn.

One person who's doing it right, they note, is Carmelo Anthony, whose Carmelo Anthony Foundation deploys the vast majority of its funds on actual charitable activities thanks to the fact that its money overwhelmingly just comes from Anthony himself or from Melo Enterprises, his personal corporation. He knows what he's good at—scoring points in professional basketball games and getting paid for his trouble—and so he forks over checks. 

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But while the article is about professional athletes, the lesson is pretty general. Come the holidays, instead of rounding up canned goods for a food drive you should just give money. By the same token, when disaster strikes and you want to help out, what's generally needed is ... money, not old clothes or other random stuff you might fork over. I'm particularly excited by Give Directly, which straight-up transfers money out of your pocket to poor Kenyans, but not every problem can be ameliorating by direct cash transfers. Still the principle is the same. If you don't want to do a direct cash transfer, try to find a nonprofit organization that you trust and whose mission you believe in and ... just give them some money. If you don't trust the organization to do something smart with unrestricted cash, maybe you shouldn't give them money at all.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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