This time of year we are bombarded with requests from all sorts of organizations who remind us that it is again “this time of year to give.” Giving to charities or to churches is a practice that has helped many. It has built non-profit and religious organizations that are now larger than corporations; it has sustained the poor, the suffering and the needy.
We find different kind of givers: Some choose charities of their preference –not always those that help the most in need– such as the arts, the ballet, or a museum, usually for activities they enjoy the most.
Others prefer to give abroad, malaria in Africa or hunger in Latin America, some unknown place they don’t have to deal with on a daily basis. Then there are those who sustain organizations that sustain their religious beliefs such as anti-abortion and anti-gay organizations, denominational charities and the like.
Still there are those who donate to sick children, animal organizations or the veterans, all good causes that strive to really help. But, in my opinion, the world of charity is a world that sustains a system of unfairness and inequality. Otherwise, we will be not talking about the subject. Here are my views:
Three quarters of wealthy people give to causes that are either of their personal preference or provide them personal benefits, according to Eric Friedman, the author of Reinventing Philanthropy: A Framework for More Effective Giving.
According to the list, in 2012, 95 such gifts and 73 were as follows:
- 21 gifts of $1 million or more (22%) went to the arts, museums, sports, or historic preservation, or to foundations with a significant emphasis on these areas.
- 37 gifts of $1 million or more (39%) went to colleges and universities.
- 15 gifts of $1 million or more (16%) went to health-related charities and hospitals in the developed world.
He also shares that billionaire David Koch donated $65 million to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, for an outdoor plaza renovation, while he spared the National Museum of Natural History $35 million for a dinosaur exhibit hall, as examples.
While the wealthy proclaim giving as a way of helping –it undoubtedly does–, it is also a way of helping themselves. Let’s not forget the large tax deductions that go to those who freely donate their money, which otherwise will go to taxes for government created programs and resources. Those programs are designed for all without preferences or discrimination of any sort.
Choosing where to allocate their charity money is a privilege to receive a privilege, one that many don’t have. When a low-income person spares a dollar at the grocery store to see their names go on a green shamrock or a few coins into the Salvation Army’s hanging basket, they don’t run to deduct that amount from their taxes.
However, the same wealthy population that so freely gives this time of year would deny their workers a fair wage, will fight back regulations that protect employee benefits and resist rewarding their employee’s hard work with a fair share of their profits.
They support –with unbelievably large amounts of money- those in government that deny the right of people to earn fair wages to live with dignity and in safety. They would fight back on giving immigrants the opportunity to build a decent life for themselves and their children. They would prevent veterans the care and services they desperately need after offering their lives –and their families’- for the country.
The philanthropic act of giving is an act of otherness; the “haves” and the “have –nots” are separated by that act. There is no link, no bond in between that would change the status-quo. Philanthropic giving is not an act of kindness, it is an act of selfishness; it does not strive for community economic empowerment but it underscores individual humiliation.
If you ever had to depend on charity of any kind to provide for yourself or for your family, you know that receiving charity is not a good feeling –it is mortifying and deprecating. In a way, it is a “reminder” that we are vulnerable, inept and unable to provide for ourselves. We have fallen off the ladder and it is unlikely that will be able to climb up again.
So next time you are thinking of giving, think less in terms of what you want to give and more of what others might want to receive: give another human being their dignity, their ability to fight for their own rights, their ability to feel whole again, and the ability to choose their own destiny.