Does emotion have a place in philanthropy?

I read a great article over the weekend in the New York Times, The Feel-Good School of Philanthropy by Jamil Zaki, that got me thinking. For years, economic models assumed that people behaved in ways that would maximize their own financial wellbeing. The problem is, they don’t.

People have idiosyncrasies that make them do “irrational” things when the unit of observation is the individual. When we look beyond the wellbeing of the individual – to that of the group – we find that these seemingly selfless economic tendencies make a lot of sense. Humans have evolved to find altruism rewarding because behaviors that contribute to the wellbeing of the group tended to also favor the individual.

Being altruistic feels good, it is baked into our DNA. Effective Altruism – working to maximize the effect of one’s philanthropy – is a laudable concept. But as Dr. Zaki points out in The Feel-Good School of Philanthropy, it runs counter to how we experience philanthropy as being meaningful – emotionally. A dispassionate strategy for distributing $45B is needed if you are a Mark Zuckerberg. For those with limited funds or time to donate, (just about everybody else) becoming emotionally invested in a cause will result in the best outcome for the organization, and will be most fulfilling for the individual.

What do you think, should we embrace the effective altruism movement or stick with philanthropy driven by genuine concern for the cause?