About 10 years ago, as I was about to enter Central Station in Sydney, a very untidy man approached me. He was about 30 years old, looked pretty down and out, and was probably an alcoholic.

“Could you give me a dollar, mate, so I can buy some breakfast?” he said.

“A dollar?” I said. “That ain’t gonna buy you any breakfast.”

“I’ve already got a couple of dollars.” he replied

You won’t get much for that,” I said. “Here’s twenty bucks, mate. Go and get yourself some eggs and bacon and then go and have a beer on me.”

“Gee, thanks, cobber,” he said, and then was gone – to the nearest pub, probably.

I turned to enter the station but a woman wearing a charity badge stood in front of me and poked a tin can at me and said, “Would you care to make a donation to the XYZ appeal, sir?”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“It’s a nationwide appeal for funds to help the poor and needy.”

“The poor and needy,” I said. “That’s wonderful. How much does your organisation hope to collect?”

“$1,000,000,” she replied.

“In that case,” I said, “I most certainly do wish to make a contribution.”

I put my hand into my pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. I searched through the coins and found a five cent piece. I dropped the five cent piece into her tin can, smiled, and then turned to go into the station.

The lady called to me, “Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes? Is there something wrong?”

“No, no, sir. We are always most grateful for donations of whatever size, but your five cent donation took me by surprise for I happened to notice that you gave $20 to a complete stranger.”

“It’s perfectly simple,” I said. “You are collecting $1 million, nationwide, for the poor and needy. Our population is more than 20 million, so if everyone gives five cents you will attain your target and have quite a bit to spare. Charities ought only ever seek funding in small amounts from the population at large so that everyone gets to know and understand the value of helping those less fortunate than themselves, where even the widow’s mite is welcomed as a treasure.”

“Oh! I understand,” she said, “but er, er, er, I cannot understand why you gave $20 to an apparent dipsomaniac.”

“Quite simple,” I said, “his need was greater than yours.”