Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Thousand Points Of Blight

Much has been made by conservatives about the private sector and solutions to the problems that confront this nation and this world. Indeed, one might sum these positions as "Thousand Points of Light," a phrase coined by Peggy Noonan, renowned drunk and speechwriter for President George Bush the Elder, way back in the late '80s.
Now, this is not a horrible thing to say: it's our community and people ought to take an active interest in helping their fellow man. Every religion and spiritual believe system talks about giving or sharing and indeed, we're taught way back in kindergarten to share.
When it works, that is. When it does not.....mehhhhhh....

It's hard to overstate the crisis facing charitable giving today. So let me just say it as plainly as I can: Much of current philanthropic giving, by foundations and individuals, neither meets the needs of our charitable organizations nor addresses some of our most urgent public needs.

Foundation practices today are too bureaucratic, inflexible and cautious, and too focused on short-term objectives. Too often, the process and procedures of grant making are more tailored to the needs of foundations and their trustees than to the requirements of nonprofits.

At the same time, our depressed economy is exacerbating this crisis—and making it all the more crucial that we address it. A severe reduction in available public and private funds has put many important nonprofit groups, especially at the local level, in grave danger. Cutbacks in their budgets and programs are depriving their clients of essential health and social services.

A number of nonprofit associations and foundations have called on the government to provide more funds and loans to struggling nonprofit organizations. Such aid would no doubt help, but the primary responsibility for maintaining the strength of the nonprofit community should rest with philanthropic institutions and individual donors.

I can sum the cause up in a short phrase: people don't give to what they need to give to, they give to what they want to give to.
Now, again, the free market is invoked here by those on the right: "Well, if cleaning up a river is desirable, then people will clean up the river."
If only charitable giving worked that way, but it doesn't. It does not exist in a vacuum, isolated from the social structure of people's lives. It is intertwined, and in some cultures deeply intertwined, with other social values.
Prestige, for one. If I want to be "seen" in society, I don't give to the river-cleaning charity unless someone higher up the social food chain is in charge and throws a big party. No, I give to the local ballet, or museum so I can be seated in the orchestra or be invited to the gala opening of the Vermeer exhibit.
Personal impact, for another. If I or a family member contracts a disease, I'm probably going to give some of my charitable attention to the foundation fighting that disease.
Indeed, at some levels of society, millions of dollars are given to hospitals to open a (Your Name Here) Prostate Oncology Wing, because (Your Name Here) contracted prostate cancer. Which is hardly charitable giving. In truth, it's making a reservation at the finest table in the restaurant with the chef's (surgeon's) personal attention lavished on you, at the expense of other people who can't afford his services now.
Or to churches. Now, no one is denying the importance of religion in American culture, let's be clear about this. Like it or not, religion is an integral part of our society, and people give the lion's share of their charity to churches.
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That's the facts, Jack. Roughly half of individual contributions go to religions. We hope those religions are actively pursuing programs that assist society, but let's face facts: feeding the poor, a noble effort, is not cleaning up a river and very few churches involve themselves in environmental programs.
Despite God's decree that this is the planet we men have been given dominion over. God might be a bit angry at us for our lack of attention.
But note something in the quote I pulled from the article I've linked to. Let me highlight it here: A number of nonprofit associations and foundations have called on the government to provide more funds and loans to struggling nonprofit organizations.
What goes around, comes around on the merry-go-round. If conservatives are so all-fired about personal responsibility, then why is this phenomenon happening? Why are charities begging Obama for money? What happened to those tax cuts that Bush gave back to the rich over the past decade?
You don't think those folks spent it or put it in their mattresses or some hedge fund, do you?