Following up on the story from a couple months back about restrictions to bankruptcy filings prohibiting filers from budgeting for tithing, and in the midst of the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s invitation to Sen. Barack Obama to appear at a Saddleback Church event, news comes both houses of Congress have passed the “Obama-Hatch Tithing Bill.”
The bill would “protect an individual’s right to continue reasonable charitable contributions, including religious tithing, during the course of consumer bankruptcy. The measure passed the United States Senate in late September and will now be presented to the President for his signature” (HT: Religion Clause).
It’s good to see the folks on Capitol Hill respond when the ball is in their court. As U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield, Jr. wrote in his original decision, “Whether tithing is or is not reasonable for a debtor in bankruptcy is for Washington to decide…. Until Congress amends [the 2005 Act], the court’s hands are tied and the tithing principles that this court once applied pre BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) have been effectively mooted.”
The judge says its not his job to legislate from the bench and that Congress needs to take action if they want to protect tithing. Congress acts and tithing is protected. Now that’s the separation of powers at work.
John Stossel’s 20/20 show last Wednesday night, “Cheap in America,” asked the tough questions about American generosity. It was an intriguing piece, weaving contrasting arguments for two key conclusions: Bureaucracies, government ones and even big charity ones (national or international), just don’t do as good a job as private, local donors and charities; and (2) Americans are truly more generous than any other people on the planet–no matter their means. Rich and poor alike give generously.
So the “Cheap Americans” slogans making their way around the globe are simply wrong. The well-intended persuaders, even personally generous high-profile Americans, who argue that poverty and disaster relief solutions rest with a bigger portion of the US GNP, demonstrate incomplete information at best, inaccurate at worst.
Stossel interviewed Arthur Brooks, someone I’ve had the pleasure of recently talking with at different charity award events. His new book Who Really Cares, rooted in extensive research of American charity, has made him a high profile voice at a most opportune time of year. He says, “When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30% more. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.” Stereotypes that liberals care more and give more, and that a higher income means increased generosity simply aren’t supported.
So one point is clear, defensible, and should motivate that worthy end-of-year giving: Charity does it better. Private donations are more substantial and yield more positive effects on the givers and receivers than any government effort. Volunteerism, direct involvement with those in need, is extremely powerful and productive.
There’s a second, equally critical point, interestingly not in the sites of the “more government money to fight world poverty” campaigns: effective giving. Give to organizations that transform people’s lives and communities.
Jesus told a parable that emphasized stewardship (Luke 19). Don’t “just give,” with no discernment. Marvin Olasky put practical guidelines on such giving with his 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. Maclellan Foundation’s Marketplace encourages givers to be both intentional and proactive. There are multiple charity evaluation tools, albeit with different emphais and valuation paradigms. Due diligence results in good stewardship.
That’s a good reason to include investigation of local needs; the credibility of the appeals and the organizations are more easily verified. Don’t overlook such community needs amid the high gloss, professionally prepared stack of appeals that have already arrived in your mailbox.
Today’s online Philanthropy News Digest carries a story about high hopes among some charity hospital fundraisers based on current stock market performance. And hospitals that include significant charity services do have valid need. But what about little charities? Linda Czipo, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Corporations in New Brunswick, adds “Not all organizations are going to benefit equally. For small organizations, the impact won’t be as large.”
Individual good stewards can change that proclamation. Giving that is direct, personal, and accountable is the best to give or to receive. Oprah gave her October 30 show audience a chance to prove that. Every member of Oprah’s audience went home with $1,000 and a Sony DVD Handycam with the challenge to “Pay it Forward” to others.…but there was a catch. Oprah challenged more than 300 audience members to donate their money to a charitable cause. Sisters Kristy O’Conner and Kasey Osborne Lumpp were in that audience.
After making some calls, the sisters came upon Atlanta Union Mission and its women and children’s center, My Sister’s House. Once they decided to help the Mission, they took Oprah’s challenge and worked to multiply the effects of their gift. The sisters did not stop with their respective $1,000 contributions. Instead, they asked Q100 for help in getting word out to the community about the needs of Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sisters House. Q100 jumped on board and asked Kroger to be a collection site for donations. In addition, the Mission has been featured every morning on Q100 this week with live interviews with staff, clients, and Kristy and Kasey. They also went to every retailer they could find soliciting donations for the Mission.
And Christmas came early to the women and children at Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sister’s House on November 3 when Kristy and Kasey presented nearly $130,000 worth of gifts and monetary donations they had collected during the previous week.
The president of Atlanta’s Rescue Mission reports that close to a quarter million dollars of inkind and cash gifts have been received as a direct result of the good stewardship of Kristy and Kasey.
I’m a “dot connector” by inclination; I generally network people and resources, but old questions with new answers that have yielded encouraging results are a great thing to connect as well.
In September 2004, the Manhattan Institute hosted an event intended to revisit 1996 welfare reform legislation results with the hope of positive lessons learned and applied for then pending reauthorization. (The fact that such was continually delayed is yet another matter.) “Whither Welfare Reform: Lessons from the Wisconsin Experience,” included panelists Jason DeParle of the New York Times, Lawrence Mead, NYU, and Jason Turner, Visiting Fellow in Welfare Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Turner had been Governor Tommy Thompson’s policy architect for Wisconsin’s largely lauded welfare reform innovations.
Question: “What would be the one critical reform that each of you would institute to bring men back into the family?” Mead suggested improved welfare work programs connected to child support; Turner argued for opportunity as well as punishment in prison, connecting parole to enforced work.
Grand Rapids’ Cascade Engineering is a stellar example of innovative business-public agency partnerships charged to place low income workers in decent jobs with opportunities. Prison Fellowship contractor Innerchange Freedom Initiative developed a re-entry program that facilitates and empowers an incarcerated man’s regeneration and reconnection to his family. The Christian Reformed Church is spearheading related work with strong direction from Grand Rapids’ leaders. Mead and Turner would be pleased.
Another productive strategy to reconnect men to their families has gained momentum in neighborhoods where local knowledge and accountability provide big leverage: healthy marriage initiatives. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Dr. Wade Horn, head of the federal Administration for Children and Families, who “has employed the zeal of an ideologue and the discipline of an academic to inject marriage promotion into a host of government programs … ” More than 200 programs across the country seek to change attitudes toward marriage, encouraging teenagers to aspire to healthy marriages and bringing relationship skills to couples of all ages.
Research indicates that marriage education works for middle-class white families; new studies will determine if the same holds for poor, nonwhite couples. The early research coming out of Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids in its work with low income, urban residents is very encouraging. Recent unofficial reports from a Grand Rapids donor who partnered with Horn’s ACF marriage work indicate that a significant number finish the programming and that importantly, neighborhood trainers are ‘moving out’ further in the community to share the skills building tools.
As we ponder the season, I’m thankful for Grand Rapids business and social entrepreneurs who put their talents to work to bring men back to the family.
In a recent column in the National Post, David Frum looks at an “astonishing” new book on charitable giving due out this month from Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks. In “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth of Compassionate Conservatism,” Brooks contends that conservatives are really “more generous, more honest and more public-spirited” than liberals.
Frum starts his column with a quote from Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria, who asserts: “Everyone on Wisteria Lane has the money of a Republican, but the sex life of a Democrat.”
You’ll have to read the column to see where he goes with this, but rest assured he finds fault with her argument on a couple points.
Back to Frum on the new book:
Consider for example this one fundamental liberal/conservative dividing line, the question “Do you believe the government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality?” In a major 1996 survey, 33% of Americans gave the liberal answer, “yes”; 43% gave the conservative answer, “no.”
Those who gave the conservative answer were more likely to give to charity than those who gave the liberal answer. And when they gave, they gave much more: an average of four times as much as liberal givers.
Correct for income, age and other variables, and you find that people who want government to fight inequality are 10 points less likely to give anything at all–and when they did give, they gave US$263 per year less than a right-winger of exactly the same age earning exactly the same money.
And this from “Right-Wing Heart, Left-Wing Heart,” a Brooks column published on the CBS News site this summer:
Young liberals in 2004 belonged to one-third fewer organizations in their communities than young conservatives. In 2002, they were 12 percent less likely to give money to charities, and one-third less likely to give blood. These differences were not due to demographics such as age or education. Imagine that you picked two people, both under 30, from the American population. Imagine they had the same education level, same household income, and were of the same race and gender. The only difference was that one was a self-described liberal, and the other a conservative. Based on nationwide data collected in the year 2000, the young conservative would donate nearly $400 more per year to charity than the young liberal.
Susan Stabile, a law professor at St. John’s University and a contributor to Mirror of Justice, analyzes the current state of health coverage in the United States in light of Catholic social teaching in this article. I have quibbles here and there along the way, but on the whole the approach and the conclusions are sound. She is probably right that Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have limited value, though my reasoning would be a little different. I would say that, in principle, they represent a helpful idea—increase the operation of the market within health care—but they are such a small foray into a vast and complicated world beset with market distortions on every side, that they end up exhibiting the deficiencies that Stabile identifies.
The verdict is obviously still out on the Massachusetts plan but I am willing, with Stabile, to give it the benefit of the doubt as a generally well-conceived step to try to solve a difficult problem.
One issue that Stabile and so many others writing on this subject fail to take into account is distinguishing between necessary and elective health care. This is a critical issue that simply must be a part of our ongoing debate about health coverage. She rightly insists that Catholic social teaching views health care as a right. But does that right imply a monthly medical check-up? An annual one? Plastic surgery to make wounds less noticeable? Botox treatments to take the lines out of one’s aging countenance?
Probably we could come to consensus that the last item in that list is not a right. But what about the others? It’s not an easy distinction and there will be a lot of different views about where to draw the line. As soon as we take health care out of the realm of the market (where every person gets just what he is willing to pay for personally), it seems to me that we have to answer not only the question, How is the community going to ensure that everyone receives health care?, but also the question, Which forms of health care will the community pay for? To think that everyone can have every bit of medical treatment he or she wishes is pie-in-the-sky utopianism. Health care is a scarce commodity like anything else, and its distribution at some level must somehow be tied to market pricing.
I think we need to stop thinking about health care as a special case and think about it more as just another basic good necessary for human wellbeing. Take nourishment as an example. No one (or nearly no one) advocates that any person be left to starve to death. And no (or nearly no one) argues that everyone must have access to five-star restaurants. Instead, people take up positions along a spectrum. Some argue that private charity can provide the needed safety net; some insist that government programs are necessary; some say that a mixture of the two is best. But with health care, it seems that many people believe that everyone must be able to afford the equivalent of the five-star restaurant; otherwise there is unconscionable inequity. It’s an impossible goal.
One thing that President Bush’s formation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives did was lead the way for the formation of similar offices at various other levels of government.
For example, in Michigan, Gov. Granholm formed the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by means of an executive order in March, 2005. And the city government in Lansing also has such an office, formed in August of this year, and has recently announced the agenda for the effort (HT: Religion Clause).
If David Kuo wants to portray the president’s faith-based initiative as nothing more than a political ploy with no substance, he’s going to have to account for all the work that is potentially being done at all these other levels of government. (I say potentially because there are of course questions about how these efforts have been implemented and what sort of work they are actually doing.)
Perhaps the formation of such community and faith-based offices at other levels were unintended by the Bush campaign, but even so they now mean that the work of governmental faith-based initiatives is no longer simply identical and coextensive with that of the White House office.
Strong claims coming from Sam at the Philanthropy in Culture, Education, Entrepreneurship blog:
The Charity model does not work – Fact. Time to move on. Responsible, accountable, dignified, respectable investment will liberate the developing world. Inventing a new model for the philanthropic space is not necessary. There is one already in existence – the business model. Change comes about through those who are bold and fearless, constantly innovating on a daily basis, questioning, re-inventing out dated methodologies. Trends suggest partnerships between business and NGO, sharing expertise to deliver lasting, viable solutions – a potent combination.
I guess it depends on what you mean by “the charity model,” but this strikes me as a false dichotomy. Why not both vibrant charity and vigorous commercial investment? Or is that what Sam is arguing for?
One thing that they do over at GetReligion is track “ghosts” in news stories. I think I found one this morning on the CBS Morning Show, and it’s fitting to talk about it given that today is Halloween.
As part of their “Heroes Among Us” series, based on profiles published in People magazine, CBS described Decker’s work in helping the poorest of the poor in Mexico. During a trip to Mexico, Decker accidentally traveled down some back roads and saw people living in flimsy and ramshackle homes.
Moved by what he saw, “Decker began working overtime on weekends, taking that extra income to an orphanage just across the border from Del Rio, Texas, in Acuna, Mexico. It’s a 350-mile commute.”
“The fact that one guy just working part-time jobs could feed and pay for the shelter and clothing of 24 children just stunned me,” Decker said. “And I thought about the money I had thrown away in a lifetime. And I thought, ‘Man, if can do this much with just that, think what I could do if I got a couple more families involved.'”
That started Paper Homes Across the Border, Decker’s charity that provides all manner of charitable services to the residents of the so-called “colonias”.
There’s nothing on the moral or religious foundations for Decker’s loving work in the CBS piece (Update: I just checked the issue of People, nothing in there either), but here’s the ghost in the story: “I was lost when I came to the colonias but boy, I got found here,” he said. (more…)
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV).
When Bank of America Philanthropic Management noticed that “the wealthiest 3% of American households responsible for nearly two-thirds of charitable giving,” it decided to study philanthropic giving. (The top 5% paid 54.4% of taxes in 2003.)
Passed on by Don’t Tell the Donor, “Bank of America today released the initial results of the most comprehensive survey to-date of the philanthropic behavior of wealthy Americans. The Bank of America High Net-Worth Philanthropy Study was conducted by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for Bank of America.”
Among the key findings:
- “Giving back” is more important than “leaving a legacy”
- There is a surprising correlation between donations of time and dollars
- Wealthy donors report that even major tax policy changes would not impact their giving
- Entrepreneurs are especially generous donors
- Charitable giving increased over the last five years
- Wealthy donors support a broader array of causes