Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Charity should go beyond home

    Americans are recognized for the amount they give to charity, but that charity too often begins and ends at home.
    The reality is that most charity in this country does not go to those who have little. It goes to those who already have lots.
    According to Ken Stern in The Atlantic, “Last year, not one of the top 50 individual charitable gifts went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.”
    The top gifts went to Ivy League universities and to museums, the very institutions that carry considerable social, political and financial clout. This giving pattern is particularly true of those with the most to give.
    Paul Piff, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told New York magazine, “The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.”
    What’s likely is that wealthy donors don’t actually know anyone who’s in real need. Their friends and their acquaintances don’t either. They don’t recognize it when someone they interact with briefly, like an employee or a restaurant server or even their own gardener, is among the working poor.
    When they interact with charities that represent institutions they do know, donors find themselves dealing with people to whom they can relate because they speak the same language and have the same cultural values.
    Americans are proud that in the face of a major disaster like the tornado in Moore, Okla., organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army can respond so quickly and do so much. Ordinary citizens are willing and prepared to do the training that prepares them to serve in the way the charities need them and then pick up and go on a moment’s notice. Yet, Stern reported that of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities in 2012, 34 went to educational institutions. Not one went to a social-service organization or to a charity like those that helped tornado victims.
    The flaw in American giving is that charitable dollars are not distributed equally even though they are an important part of how America cares for the poor and victims of natural disasters.
    The default question for donors too often is, “What’s in it for me?” It’s not hard to find reasons and ways not to give, and giving to social-service causes probably won’t get your name on a building.
    A recent study in The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that people in less affluent areas give more as a percentage of their income than wealthier Americans. Perhaps it’s because they have the ability to better recognize those who truly are in need. It’s an ability all of us should emulate.

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