Monday, November 21, 2005

What is charity?

The New York Times of November 14 had an excellent special section on Giving.

The lead article posed the question: What is charity? It asserted that, over the past 40 years, contributions to education and health organizations increased approximately 300-400% while contributions to human service organizations increased only 28%. Moreover, it stated that "the share of giving going to organizations most directly related to helping the poor hit a record low, accounting for less than 10 percent of the $248 billion donated by Americans and their philanthropic institutions."

The article quoted one expert who opined: "In general, philanthropy seems to have stopped talking about poverty and race."

Those of us concerned about social issues, social justice, nonprofit organizations, and "charity" need to consider carefully the issues this article raises. If nonprofit organizations are drifting away from service to the poor, needy, and vulnerable, then we probably have a significant problem. If they are not drifting away from an emphasis on the poor and vulnerable, but nonetheless the general public has begun to question the value of charity, or nonprofit organizations, or voluntary action to to bring assistance to those in need and to make communities better places to live - then we need to perk up and do something.

What better week to think about all this than the week of Thanksgiving, when we can all offer thanks, in our own ways, for the people who nurture us and for the resources that meet our basic needs and make our lives more comfortable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As costs increase, arts and educational institutions have found it more difficult to fund programs through fees for service. It makes sense that they have been more agressive about fundraising in recent years, reducing the amount that may have gone to more traditional charities in the past.