The Challenge of Charitable Giving

In his article, What's Wrong With Charitable Giving - and How to Fix It, Pablo Eisenberg argues that our society needs to get its act together with regard to charitable giving. It's not simply a matter of giving more (though that is part of it), but it is also a matter of "giving better." He outlines a number of ways in which we can focus our giving on causes that most need our assistance.

I was especially interested by his point number five: "Allocate More Funds to the Truly Needy." This sounds like common sense, but it's not that simple. He makes the important point that most wealthy givers tend to give to causes such as higher education, hospitals, arts, and culture, rather than to causes that target the needs of poor, minority, or at-risk groups in society.

I am a huge supporter of the arts, culture, and education. And I firmly believe that these are ventures that need to be supported. (It's hard to have this conversation without thinking of Toby's defense of the National Endowment for the Arts in an early season of the West Wing: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

At the same time, I'm fascinated by his statement that "Individual wealthy donors apparently are even stingier [than foundations] in their giving to poor and disadvantaged populations." Is it that wealthier donors choose to give to "higher-class" causes because they are the most familiar with them? Or because they directly benefit from giving to them? Or because there is pressure among the wealthy to give to wealthy pursuits? I'd be curious to learn more about the relationship between class/wealth and charitable giving, both in terms of percentage of wealth given and in terms of choice of organization/charity/cause.

The question I have for Pablo concerning his point about allocating more funds to the truly needy is this: How can we encourage charitable giving in such a way that we can do more good for the truly needy without implying that causes such as education, hospitals, and the arts are of lesser importance or worth? How can we balance our charitable giving so as to provide for the needs and rights of others while still providing for higher pursuits that benefit our collective creativity, culture, and education?

I think of John Keating's quote from Dead Poets Society:
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse.
We have the opportunity to contribute a verse with every act of charitable giving. The question is how to balance the pursuits necessary to sustain life as well as the pursuits necessary to edify it.

No comments:

Post a Comment