Monday, March 2, 2009

Give Now

That these are hard times for the nation's nonprofits needs no further elaboration. Charity leaders are criticizing the President's budget plan because it cuts the tax advantage of a gift from people in the 33-35% tax bracket to 28% plus he proposes bumping the capital gains tax from 15-20%. Mercy. New York Times philanthropy beat reporter Stephanie Strom summed it up neatly - "among donors the concern was one of being forced to limit donations when charities need their support the most."

Social scientist Paul Schervish a Giving USA Foundation board member and esteemed colleague says "Obama is setting in place tax-rate and discount-rate policies that tend to lower charitable giving. And he is doing this exactly during a time when the recession, financial insecurity and depreciation of assets also negatively affect charitable giving."

Do I qualify as a "charity leader?" I'm president of Women's Prison Association, treasurer of Jazzmobile and a director of PICO National Network and Giving USA Foundation. And I disagree with the other anointed leaders: My take is that the $300 billion plus donated to US charities is a pimple on the great butt of the government trillions it will take to turn this nation around. Or otherwise put the insiders' chattering about the lessened charitable deduction fails utterly to consider that without the government contracts and grants that pass through the books of virtually all but discretely religious organizations private philanthropy - essential as it is - will simply not cut it.

The greater good is in Obama's courageous commitment to taking on all interest groups, including ours, because that is exactly what's required. My guess is at least 90% of the so called "charity leaders" voted for him, not exactly a shocker given the Ken and Barbie alternatives. Obama made clear his priorities throughout the campaign. What's the big surprise here?

Stephanie Strom also quoted veteran New York consultant Margaret Holman: "Research has shown again and again that for major donors, taxes are at the bottom of their list of reasons they make these gifts" and she reported Giving Institute director Bob Sharpe's trenchant observation that the alternative minimum income tax already limits the charitable tax deduction to 28% for the very wealthiest donors.

Giving USA has been measuring the philanthropy handle since 1967. The bar chart looks like a Madoff report: up virtually every year for 40 years - through recession, war, rampant inflation, high hem lines, low hem lines, 9/11 - and tinkering from time to time with the charitable deduction.

Yes as a professional I'd like those who give the most to get the most. But as I Brasso their plaques I'd like to see universal health care, a green environment, poor kids who can read and write, full employment - and if the arts can't prosper they should at least flourish.

Not to mention an end to foreclosures, two wars and serious jail time for the anti-government Ayn Randers whose (objectivist) greed got the country into this mess.

Charity is big business, 10% of employment, 2% of GDP, millions of organizations; we are as much a special interest as farmers, oil companies, defense contractors etc. Somebody needs to put total interest over self interest.

Now that would be an act of charity.

Give now.

1 comment:

Sharon Bond said...

"My take is that the $300 billion plus donated to US charities is a pimple on the great butt of the government trillions it will take to turn this nation around."

Now =that's= a classic line! Great post, as usual.