The New Philanthropy: Spiteful Altruism? - RIP Medical Debt
January 31, 2017

The New Philanthropy: Spiteful Altruism?

Written By

Founder, Director of Education and Outreach

At first I was taken aback. The tweet coming from @KarolGajda announced to his following:

“In honor of the @GOP and @SpeakerRyan’s wish to put Americans in medical debt, I gave $100 to @RIPMedicalDebt today. Introducing Spitefulness Altruism (and How We Are Giving Away $3,000).”


First, I assure you that RIP Medical Debt — the 501(c)(3) charity I co-founded — was grateful for the donation. Every penny counts in our efforts. We buy and forgive medical debt for pennies on the dollar (on average at 1 to 100). Now we had 1,000 more pennies to use for abolishing about $10,000 worth of medical debt.

Even so, I wondered, was this donation possibly tainted?

I decided to do some research, and I connected directly with Karol Gajda (pronounced “Karl Gaj-da”).

“Actually,” he said in our phone conversation, “I already had a great example to follow. A lot of people protested perceived insults by Trump against Planned Parenthood by becoming members or donating to the organization.”

True. According to Time magazine, both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU were “recipients of an unprecedented rise in donations in response to attacks on them.”

Still, I asked, why spiteful?

His firm stand on using that word is explained in his tweet’s accompanying post (worth the read), which explains the term and why he chose RIP (and other carefully-selected charities) to demonstrate its power. He explains:

“Usually[my] giving came from a positive place, and I didn’t talk about most of it in public, or in private. Now, I think, maybe if I talk about it, then fellow misanthropes will join me, get louder, and stand up for or support more causes they care about.”

Why RIP Medical Debt?

Karol Gajda wrote that he chose RIP “because they’re a sweet organization that abolishes medical debt for Americans who should never have to incur medical debt in the first place. Unfortunately, we have a large contingency of people who would rather watch folks suffer or die than help them. As an American with pre-existing conditions, I may need this organization [RIP] at some point in the future, after the people now in power get their way.”

He has a point. All too many of us are subject to the whims of political ideology, an accident or an illness. As a self-employed freelancer in marketing and copywriting (his talents helped launch the bestseller, The $100 Startup), he is keenly aware of the landmines sprinkling the field we call our “healthcare system.”

For more research on this “spiteful giving” phenomenon, I then headed (where else?) to the news headlines.

Spiteful giving? Let me count the ways!

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that activist and filmmaker Michael Moore offered “a clear message for protesters at the Women’s March on Washington: Join a nonprofit.”

Gail Perry’s blog, Fired Up Fundraising, posed this headline question: “How Will a Trump Presidency Impact Nonprofits, Fundraising and Philanthropy?”

The article — which she had to edit from its original version because of “vitriolic comments” from people outside the nonprofit sector — conceded  nonprofits working to solve society’s problems have reasons to be worried “because of who we are,” but not to be frozen in fear.

“We reach out to the disadvantaged, heal the sick, educate the young, care for the environment, house the homeless, help the poor and homeless and work to cure disease,” she writes. “We are the ones who are the ones who work to build strong communities, who bring people together for good.”

She adds, “Remember our donors. They’re the people who care about our causes,” shown by donating and by “joining forces with us. They are our team, our backups, our true believers, our bandwagon.”

In the overall picture, “spiteful altruism” has its place.

RIP focuses on medical debt created by a system that is obviously flawed and needing repair, but RIP is agnostic about politics. As we see it, our job is taking care of the casualties, not arguing with the generals and their wars.

RIP supporters cover the full range of ages and outlooks. At one end, three 16-year-old Pensacola high school students are using pizza parlors to raise $10,000 to forgive $1M in medical debt for anyone. At the other end is a 95-year-old retired attorney and WWII bomber navigator who donates to RIP (and asks his friends to donate) specifically to relieve medical debt for veterans.

Regardless of who you are, or why you want to help, we are more than happy to welcome donations from you as an act of dissatisfaction or dissent. If you are as mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore, we welcome your donations at RIP Medical Debt.

We have a big tent.