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I often see that the same thing - a sum of money is being called differently in different contexts and even sometimes in equal contexts.

I know all the three words and their other meanings but when it comes to money I'm not sure if people use them wisely and whether a difference even a slight one exists within this or that context. For instance:

  1. If a developer creates a software and he gives it out for free but wishes to have a certain income to enhance it and continue working on it, most usually that would be a "contribution" right? However, I sometimes see people write "donation" in there software and on the web sites.
  2. If an organization helps street animals and asks for money from people for that help then usually that's called "charity" but I sometimes hear and see people use "donation" is this case.
  3. If somebody is sick and needs medical attention but there family hasn't a sufficient sum of money they ask for "donation" but not "charity". However, when they speak of someone who gave them quite a sum they call it a "contribution".

Could someone explain in which situation should one use "contribution", "charity" and "donation"?

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Tᴚoɯɐuo's comment pretty much answered your question, but I thought I'd add a bit more detail.

  • Donation - to voluntarily give something away for free as a gift, usually to charity, or for a charitable cause. The giver has not received, and does not expect to receive, anything in return for their donation. The "something" donated can be money, an object, or a service (i.e. something that has a value to the receiver of the donation).
  • Contribution - to give something as part of a number of people giving something. As above, this could be money, an object or a service. A contribution may or may not be voluntary and may or may not be charitable (e.g. contributing to the payment for a group meal in a restaurant, where everyone pays for what they ate).
  • Charity - Most often used to refer to a particular organisation The charity cares for abandoned animals, or the subset of organisations that are defined as "charities" (i.e. non-profit organisations that give some form of aid and (usually) raise money for this purpose) The proceeds went to charity. It is sometimes used to mean the aid provided to or by someone (voluntarily and for free) She relied on charity to survive. It is not very common to use it to mean a sum of money specifically, but it can do in some contexts.

Donation and contribution can mostly be used interchangeably when the charitable context is clear. If it is not, donation can make it clear. Donate or donation is much more commonly used when asking for a contribution, or when talking about charitable giving. For example, you would never say that you "contributed blood" to a blood bank/hospital, but you would say that you "donated" or "gave" blood.

Some people consider there to be a stigma attached to receiving charity, so if they have received charitable (especially financial) help from a friend, relative, or stranger they may be less likely to refer to it as charity or a donation because of this.

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