Encouraging A Culture Of Philanthropy

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

On thithing, philanthropy, taxation, and sharing wealth

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have been lurking on a LinkedIn discussion about Warren Buffett’s op-ed piece in the New York Times about taxing the wealthy. The posts have been within a group for fundraising professionals. Someone raised the question of what this post has to do with philanthropy, and asserted that it seems too political in nature for this group.

I do try to stay away from politics when I’m in the professional sphere, but when one tries to live an integrated life the way that I do, it’s hard to maintain a strict boundary there. Actually, this discussion presents a good opportunity for fundraising professionals like myself to state why it is we do what we do.

As a fundraising professional, I have always thought of my work as encouraging a culture of philanthropy. I believe that as citizens of the world, people have a responsibility to give back the communities where we live and create the world that we want to live in.

While they are not exactly the same concepts, I do believe that philanthropy, tithing, and taxes are similar ideas. They all relate to giving and responsibility. If we want the world to be a certain way, we need to make contributions to make it so. Whether that is time, talent, or treasure, each of us is responsible to pay into the systems that make our communities they way we want them to be.

And we all benefit from doing so, directly or indirectly. Whether it is your own child who goes to public school, or if it is the nurse who was educated in public school who is now taking care of a sick relative, the taxes that are needed to support public education benefit all of society.

Likewise, when a family is struggling to put food on the table, they go to their local food pantry to get groceries or to the local soup kitchen to get a hot meal. ABC News did some amazing coverage recently about poverty and hunger in America, reporting that more and more families who once identified as middle class are struggling to make ends meet. People who used to give to the food pantries are now turning to them for help.

Tithing is a concept that is mostly used by churches. It is a word that some shy away from because traditionally it implies an obligation to contribute at least 10% of one’s income to the church. For most people, that is more than they feel they can afford. However, when I encourage people to be philanthropic, I simply encourage them to give whatever they are able.

I like the concept of tithing because of it’s implication of responsibility. I believe that we all have a responsibility to pay in to make our communities and institutions strong. The government needs our support to maintain our schools, roads, and bridges, and to keep our communities safe and thriving.

Warren Buffett is speaking as a citizen an as a philanthropist. Wealthy and poor alike benefit from philanthropy, taxes, and tithes.

When people give, I hope that they are philanthropic out of the true sense of generosity and wanting to help make someone’s life better. When people pay taxes, I hope they think about the kids in their neighborhood who have access to public education. And I also hope that they are mindful of the fact that they benefit directly from these public services and charities that they support.

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