Friday, November 27, 2009

Do You Do Your Part for Charity?


     Not long ago my wife and I were watching 20/20 on ABC News.  There was a report about charitable giving that really caught our attention.  The report's findings were surprising.  First, it seems the most generous Americans, as a percentage of their income, are the working poor.  They give about 30% more than the very wealthy do.  And the least generous? People like me, and probably most of my readers, middle-income Americans. We give less, by percentage of income, than the working poor or very rich.  That is embarrassing to me, but it doesn't stop there.
     I would have guessed, even bet money, that those that are more liberal or Progressive, like me, would be sure to give more money than self-described conservatives.  However, according to this report, I am wrong.  Of the top twenty-five states for charitable giving, all but one voted Republican in the 2004 Presidential election. Religious people give more money than non-religious people, and not only to religious charities, as I would have thought. 
     So, after watching this report, my wife and I decided to increase our charitable giving, and to do so in a way that matched what was important to us. In other words, we wanted to find charities that were in line with our political and world views and interests, that helped people more than causes, and were efficient with the donations received. 
     I am passionate about a few things, so this was an easy quest.  First, I like history, education, and Colonial Williamsburg, and I had already been giving to them for years!  We also like things in the Cleveland area that we enjoy and feel are beneficial to the community.  The Cleveland Botanical Gardens fit the bill.  
     I care very much about access to health care, and am disturbed how many people get sick and die every day around the world from diseases that could be easily preventable or treated if proper health care were available.  I had read a book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder that highlighted the Partners in Health, an group started by Dr. Paul Farmer.  This organization is wonderful in almost everything they do: they spend their money wisely (their managers seem to be paid very meagerly) and think outside the box for solutions to health care problems in the areas they work.  
     I also care very much about the civil rights of Americans, so the old standard ACLU  came to mind.  Of course, since I listen to National Public Radio almost daily, the local NPR station was on the list. Finally, I care about the environment; not only climate change, but keeping the planet clean, protecting wildlife, and preserving natural space.  
     I found a great website, Charity Navigator, that helps rate and categorize charities and how well they work. It can be explained better on the site, but they rate charities by their efficiency and capacity, and then make public the ratings.  It was a great way to help make a decision about where to send my money.

     So, after being inspired by the 20/20 report, thinking about what causes I felt were important, and researching charities to make sure my money was well spent, how did we do in our charitable giving?  We increased it, but like most in the middle class, failed to live up to our goals.  I continued to contribute to Colonial Williamsburg, started donating to NPR, became a member of the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, and participated in Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation activities.  But I failed to donate to any environmental funds, Partners in Health, the ACLU Foundation, or any organizations that provide books, education, or health care to people in the United States.  As we say so often in Cleveland, there is always next year.

     I think it is important, that we, as Americans, and me as a Progressive, start to put our money where our mouths are.  There are hundreds, thousands of non-profits that do wonderful things for people all around the world.  We could skip going out once a month and send that money to one of them, and probably feel better for it.  Charity and volunteering needs to become something that is more than just talked about or done as a token gesture around the holidays, or to spice up a college application or resume.  
     So the next time you're going out to eat, or buying that new computer, camera, clothes, car, ask if you really need what you're getting. If the answer is no, there are lots of others who do.


Jen Forbus said...

Very nice sentiment, George. I think we in the middle class get caught in the rat race of constantly wanting to keep up with Jones...not a great way to live in society. Sometimes we forget that we don't exist as individuals, we exist as a group. And that doesn't have to take identity away from anyone.

But you, I feel compelled to support causes close to home and close to my heart, so I'll add another cause that I find to be worthy and that's animal welfare. The Erie Shores Humane Society is in my area. They don't have a physical shelter, so they are always looking for foster homes and of course people to adopt the homeless animals. They have a no-kill policy and all their "employees" for the donations go directly to the benefit of the animals. Donations of pet food, blankets, cages, collars, toys, and of course always monetary donations are so appreciated by this group. There are also low-cost spay and neuter programs that can always use subsidies.

Another group I really like is the Vietnam Vets that collect used items for those less fortunate. When I'm looking at clothing I no longer wear but that is in excellent condition, instead of contributing to a land fill it goes to a wonderful cause.

At work we have regular contributions to the United Way as well as some food pantries.

There are just so many places that can benefit from generosity of others, especially now when people are so afraid to part with their money. And for good reason. Almost all of us are one paycheck away from being homeless; if that day came, would someone be generous enough to help?

George said...

Thanks for adding a few more good suggestions. There are so many good causes out there, domestically and abroad, for the poor, ill, victims, animals, the list is too long to go through.