Had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about our patterns of charity. Realized that my giving falls into three distinct buckets.
1) My Things
"My Things" are the institutions that I was a part of - Stanford, Vassar, Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose. There's definitely some self-interest here -- keep them excellent so I can bask in their brand glow.
2) Your Things
"Your Things" are the various endeavors that my friends are part of - ongoing or event driven. Friends that are on various boards, doing an AIDS ride, etc. I'm always good for a small sum - usually $25-50 - regardless of the institution. It's just about supporting the people i care about.
3) Balancing Out Evil
I use my money to try and counter specific activities that offend me. For example, after reading a story about Taliban forces shelling a school that taught young girls, i donated to a charity which supports the education of women across the world. When pro-life activists bomb a clinic or murder a doctor, i give to choice groups. I feel strongly about equal and opposite force in the face of those trying to destroy personal freedoms or equality.
Interestingly i'm not usually motivated by natural tragedy - i don't think i gave to katrina funds, tsunami rescue, etc. Why? Sometimes it doesn't feel personal enough. Sometimes it's skepticism that funds are going to be used well in the moment of crisis.