Actions are judged on their intent, rather than on results. This leads to a bizarre world in which the actions of governments, individuals, and not-for-profit organizations are often governed by good intentions, even when good intentions generate disastrous results. (A classic example is the “We Are The World” music recordings performed by leading American pop artists in the 1980s to help the victims of Ethiopian famine. In fact, the money was used by the rulers of Ethiopia to buy weapons.)
Intentions matter, but so do results. The desire to help others is not a guarantee that an action is worthwhile. Well-intentioned actions that generate poor results are not worthy of praise. Those who seek to help others should follow the ancient creed of the medical profession: First, do no harm.
Despite these cautions, there are occasions when providing some form of assistance may create value. The keys to creating value through charity are:
• The recipient must be a fundamentally good person who is worthy of assistance.
• Desire and motivation cannot be given; the recipient must have the drive to succeed.
• Help should be temporary; it should enable the recipients to move forward on their own.
• The recipient must desire and agree to be helped, and not resent or be embittered by assistance.
• The donor must have a genuine desire to help, rather than to appear virtuous to others.
If all of these criteria are met, helping others can be an extremely rewarding experience. Possible worthy recipients are unfortunately unlimited and might include an abused child, a handicapped adult, a struggling artist, a family seeking freedom from an oppressive political system, or many others. Help might be in the form of money, contacts, information, guidance — again, the list is endless. But one common thread is that no matter who the recipient is or what form the aid takes, the most valuable component is often the reassurance that comes from knowing that someone else cares enough to help.
Are your efforts to help others actually helping them? How can you help others create value?