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.
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
NASHVILLE – The event was billed as an “appreciation” for the volunteers at the Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee and the theme for the evening was set by St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9).
By the time the program wrapped up, everyone in attendance was reminded of the plain truth that making real change in a life is hard work. It’s not a job for quitters. And it often involves many, many helping hands.
The Oct. 19 program to honor CWJC volunteers at the Forest Hills Baptist Church also included the presentation of the 2006 Samaritan Award by Acton’s Karen Woods. CWJC, which was awarded a $10,000 cash prize, was recognized along with nine other honorees in the annual competition that searched for the nation’s best private charities. Check out the Samaritan Guide online scorecard on CWJC.
The CWJC in Nashville, now in its tenth year, is aimed at improving the job skills of the working poor and moving them up the economic ladder. These women may be recovering from addiction, ex-offenders, or just in need of deeper employment skills or more education. The women are assigned a volunteer mentor who commits to working at least a year with them, usually for 2-4 hours per week in the evening. The program participants and mentors work out a set of goals, and take employment and “life skills” classes that might involve subjects such as computer training or preparation for a GED. Mentors, who approach the job as mission work, are required to be at least 25 years old and in possession of an “active” faith.
Rebekah Sumrall, executive director of the Nashville-based CWJC, said the work of the organization begins with “a relationship where you understand their goals and what their dreams are.” By bringing the program participants into new relationships with mentors and other volunteers, the CWJC addresses one of the most pressing needs of the women it serves. Often, the women in the CWJC program are mired in poverty because, through their own mistakes, or because of the brokenness around them, they have little in the way of healthy relationships with family, friends and community to call on. The CWJC approach shows that true caring for others is personal, and often involves immediate and direct “hands on” help. That can be complicated and messy and involve much more of a commitment than simply offering a few soothing words or mailing a check.
“We create the potential for transformation of body, mind, heart and spirit for the working poor and the Christian volunteer,” Sumrall said. “And we think we’re the best at that.” (more…)
Yesterday the Detroit News ran an op-ed in which I argue that corporate America should apply the fundamental insight behind President Bush’s faith-based initiative and open up their charitable giving to faith groups, since they “often provide more comprehensive and therefore often more effective assistance than purely secular or governmental counterparts.” A number of large corporate foundations either explicitly rule out donations to faith groups or refuse to contribute matching funds to them.
One of the advantages to liberalizing the corporate playing field is that such an effort would avoid potential church-state and constitutionality issues that have plagued the president’s plan. It could also potentially de-politicize charitable giving, which has become a hot topic especially in light of the recent charges levelled by David Kuo (who now blogs here, conveniently enough).
A brief side note: I had to stifle a laugh when I read Jim Wallis’ reaction to Kuo’s book. Wallis concludes that we must “beware of those who would manipulate genuine faith for partisan political purposes.” Amy Sullivan, a guest blogger on Wallis’ Beliefnet blog, posting at Faithful Democrats, writes that “at some point, being a person of good faith shouldn’t get you off the hook, it should require something of you.” Hello, pot? This is the kettle calling…
In any case, for those that are interested, after the jump I have posted a longer version of my commentary on faith groups and corporate giving, complete with links to relevant external sources. (more…)
In a way, the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford recognizes a fact that Ron Sider has written on and I have thought about for a long time. In “A New Take on Tithing,” Claude Rosenberg & Tim Stone write:
Too often, individuals make decisions about how much money to donate to charitable causes on an ad hoc basis. As a result, many people give less money than they can actually afford. If the affluent contributed as much to nonprofits as the authors believe they can, charitable giving in the United States would increase by $100 billion a year – enough to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.
Sider has previously written: “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”
The Stanford estimate is about one-third higher than Sider’s estimate with regard to how much extra charitable income there might be if the tithe were rigorously implemented. Part of the difference might be due to the fact that there are somewhat different sets of people under examination. The Stanford estimate is primarily based on “the affluent,” while Sider is talking about “American Christians” in general (clearly there is significant but not complete overlap).
But another aspect of the difference might in fact be the nuance of the Stanford piece’s analysis, and one of its key points: charitable giving should not be based simply on take home pay. Under what they call the “old tithe,” the following seems to be the case, “When people tithe, they typically base the amount they give on their income alone, not on their income and investment assets.”
Of course, assuming that at first the investment asset seed money was take home pay, the tithe would have already been applied to those funds. In essence, the “new tithe” is a double application of the tithe, the second time pertaining to profits earned with money to which the tithe had previously been applied.
Whether or not you think this sort of double tithe is appropriate, the Stanford piece does raise the important question of the responsible stewardship of investment profits. And while at first Sider’s estimate may seem more conservative than the Stanford estimate, if you take into account Sider’s endorsement of a graduated tithe, Sider’s model would end up being much more stringent in terms of its expectations (the graduated tithe is the idea that as income increases, so should the percentage of giving increase, eventually to 100% above a certain threshold).
Some may object that the new double tithe or the graduated tithe, or even the old tithe itself is too legalistic, too stringent, or both. To that I have two things to say.
First, let’s put the level of giving in perspective. Whether or not you think the tithe is a biblical requirement, it is valid as a consistent baseline measure. According to Barna’s research, “The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church – that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry – has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002.” In addition, “9% of born again Christians tithed their income to churches in 2004,” and “When contributions are examined as a percentage of household income, giving to religious centers represents about 2.2% of gross income.”
Second, even if you agree with Russell Earl Kelly, Ph.D., that the tithe is not a biblical requirement, it is a far more difficult case to make that the tithe is “unbiblical” or anti-Scriptural. The category of adiaphora would apply here, I think. So, for example, the assertion that the New Testament does not explicitly endorse or teach tithing does not necessarily mean that Christians cannot practice it or that it is “wrong” to tithe.
A week or so ago I passed along a story about the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York’s interpretation of recent legislation to make it illegal for those filing for bankruptcy to tithe, except under very specific circumstances (here’s a good follow-up story).
Well, yesterday Religion Clause (which is, by the way, an excellent blog well worthy of bookmarking), noted that while the aforementioned case had received a great deal of attention, “an equally important case on the issue decided several weeks ago by the Second circuit seems to have gone largely unnoticed.”
In a case decided in late July,
the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that treating some contributions to churches as fraudulent conveyances in bankruptcy does not violate the Free Exercise of Establishment clauses. It went on to interpret various provisions of the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998. It held that the statute’s shield for charitable donations of up to 15% of a debtor’s annual income applies to aggregate annual transfers, not to individual donations. The court held that in this case, the Church had waived its claim that it should be able to retain amounts donated to it under the 15% limit. Finally it held that on remand the church could raise the statutory defense that donations in excess of 15% “were consistent with the practices of the debtor in making charitable contributions.
Check out Religion Clause for the case details and relevant links.
Religion Clause, which is “devoted to legal and political developments in free exercise of religion and separation of church and state,” is run by Howard M. Friedman, Distinguished University Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Toledo College of Law.