True Charity: Selfless, Not Self-serving

The Salvation Army: A True Charity

The Salvation Army: Always Where They Are Needed and Always Eager to Help -- Hurricane Gustav (2008)
The Salvation Army: Always Where They Are Needed and Always Eager to Help -- Hurricane Gustav (2008)

Celebrities Lend a Helping Hand

Happy to give: Celebrity fundraisers Bono and Oprah Winfrey promoting the singer's new project to fight AIDS in Africa. Photo: AP
Happy to give: Celebrity fundraisers Bono and Oprah Winfrey promoting the singer's new project to fight AIDS in Africa. Photo: AP

The Good Sisters of Charity

The Fourth Conference of Mother Seton's Daughters met at Mount Saint Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 27-28, 1949.
The Fourth Conference of Mother Seton's Daughters met at Mount Saint Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 27-28, 1949.

I cringe every time I hear about some multi-billionaire donating money to charity.

I don't cringe because I have anything against charity; in fact, I have a high regard for true charities, as if charity needs a modifier.

I cringe because, to me, charity is selfless, not self-serving.

Billionaires and even lowly millionaires, may or may not be altruistic about giving to "charity," but in either event they gain considerable benefits from their donations. Not insignificant among the benefits of giving is the generous tax deductions granted by both the federal and state governments.

Too Much of a Skeptic

Maybe 45 years in the field of journalism has made me too much of a skeptic, but I feel that most so-called philanthropists gain more than just the simple thanks of the people and organizations who are the recipients of their largesse.

Certainly, the money these wealthy people give does a great deal of good to many individuals and to charities around the world.

It isn't the individual philanthropist or the many deserving charities that gives me pause; rather, it's the government and the way Congress and state legislatures treat donations to charities.

Poor people in general and the great middle class in particular tend to react favorably to large donations by wealthy individuals and organizations to legitimate charities. Their eyebrows raise at least an inch, inevitably, when I mention my disdain about any particular charitable donation.

Their surprise turns to puzzlement, however, when I explain that every time a billionaire makes a large contribution to charity -- and billion-dollar gifts are beginning to become a reality -- my taxes (and yours) will have to go up.

Charitable Tax Deductions

If you think about it for a moment you'll realize that when Bill Gates gives $1 billion to charity he gets a tax write off. The government has a budget equal to its expenses, so if it does not collect money because of charitable deductions, it has to raise that money someplace else -- and you know where!

On top of that, charities that receive multi-million dollar contributions from individuals or corporations treat their beneficiaries like gods. If the benefactor recommends someone for a job at the charity, you can bet they'll get the job!

That's power, and only a sample of benefits contributors receive. Just look at the Rockefeller and Ford foundations if you have any doubt about it.

'Love of Humanity'

My dictionary defines charity as "benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity." I don't believe givers should be getting anything in return except gratitude.

I have little regard for most charitable organizations I've had any contact with, largely because their bureaucratic organizations "talk the talk" better than they "walk the walk," as they say in today's idiom.

In my book the Salvation Army comes in head and shoulders above all others. The army doesn't put you through a ringer before it decides whether to help you or not. If you are in need, the army's soldiers try to find a way to help -- that's what I call charity.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Oct. 2, 1999. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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The Salvation Army Christmas Kettles

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Comments 53 comments

einron profile image

einron 8 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

You have a point here. The Salvation Army really makes no demands on the givers. They just serve.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you for commenting, einron. I wish all charities would take a page from the Salvation Army's book.


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Interesting hub, William. I've always wondered how much celebrities who raise millions for charities have actually given themselves.

My favorite charitable act is to buy a pair of warm gloves for a bell-ringer standing outside a store I'm Christmas shopping at. It's always very cold and they never have anything covering their hands. The look on their face makes it well worth it every year.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, Constant Walker. Fortunately, there are a lot of celebrities who give for the right reasons and don't notify the press about it. Bing Crosby was one gave to many good causes without seeking publicity about it. Personally, I've always thought that -- if I had lots of money -- I'd like to hire a small plane and drop $20 bills over a poor neighborhood. That way the money would be more likely to get to the people who need it.


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

That's an interesting idea. I think it would also be helpful to open a Wal-Mart right in the middle of a really poor neighborhood. One very firm condition: All employess and staff members must be hired from said neighborhood. And what a great place for them all to shop.

I bet that would have a positive affect...


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

That would be a great idea, provided Wal-Mart paid them something more than slave labor wages and let them join a union. When I worked in New York in the late 1960's Robert Kennedy urged that businesses locate their plants and offices in the city's depressed areas. The board of directors of the association I worked for laughed it off as if Kennedy's idea was ridiculous. That attitude was common among NY execs. It's a major reason that I decided to seek employment elsewhere.


02SmithA profile image

02SmithA 8 years ago from Ohio

Interesting hub. The Salvation Army has certainly proven itself to be a clear cut leader in the charity area. Love the title of selfless and not self-serving.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, 02SmithA. A perfect example of Salvation Army charity was the Northeast Blackout of 1965. I was at Grand Central Station in Manhattan when virtually everything went black (except the railroad car I was sitting in that couldn't move.) Thousands were stranded. It was a major crisis. Outside on 42nd Street were two vehicles offering coffee: The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The Army's coffee was free. You had to pay for the coffee from the Red Cross. That tells it all.


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

Nice article William.  With my parents living in Florida I hear all kinds of nice stories about the Salvation army helping people out (in times of disaster) by setting up stations in neighborhoods giving out coffee and breakfast foods all for free. (nice video on the Christmas Kettle)


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I'm glad to hear yet another nice story about the Salvation Army's good works. For some reason, Dottie, it doesn't surprise me. There are very few, if any, negative stories about the army's charitable activities.


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Great article William,,

The Salvation Army has had nothing but kudos from me!!

In-fact, they are my only chance of finding my mother who disappeared when i was 18 months old and has not been seen since! They offer a service to help people track lost relatives or loved ones so watch this space and fingers crossed!!;)


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

"I don't believe givers should be getting anything in return except gratitude."

Absolutely correct. That says it all.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I'm glad you know about the Salvation Army, compu-smart. They don't have all the resources of some of the big charities, but I'll bet they will do everything within their means to help you with your quest. I'll be watching, with hope and with my fingers crossed as well.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, ColdWarBaby.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Thumbs up for the Salvation Army. I think of Sergeant Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson and Major Barbara Undershaft when I pass a Salvation Army store. "Put a nickel on the drum and be saved."


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

Thumbs up for the Salvation Army and your hub! The only time anyone every helped me when I needed help was the Salvation Army. Because of that, they are the only charity I give to on a regular basis.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, Ralph. Some nice guys and gals, but in the Bush era I suggest they make it at least a dollar instead of a nickel.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

That's why the Salvation Army is so wonderful, Jerilee Wei. They lend a hand because a hand is needed. No questions asked.


Jewels profile image

Jewels 8 years ago from Australia

That is such a good point about the tax deductions. Particularly for celebrities who benefit tenfold because of their gifts in the form of good publicity which is worth more than the tax deduction. I'm not being a sourpuss over the generosity and don't want that to stop of course. Certainly the issue should be tabled for discussion.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Virtually all celebrities can easily afford large charitable donations, Jewels, and you can't buy that kind of good will anywhere else. Some celebrities, like Bing Crosby, for example, gave freely without expectations of publicity, although I would guess even he took a tax deduction for his largesse. While it's not the subject of this piece, I feel compelled to mention that what bothers me most is the professional fundraisers who take the biggest piece of the pie before turning over the crumbs to the charity for which the funds were raised. I appreciate your comment.


christinekv profile image

christinekv 8 years ago from Washington

Nice hub! I too hadn't thought about the implications of the large tax deductions - thanks for sharing that point.

I know a retired Salvation Army Major and she is a wonderful, mighty, loving woman who spent a good deal of time serving the Lord and others in Haiti. People still call her "Major" instead of by her first name. She, like you WFT, has some incredible stories to share!

Regarding the topic, I couldn't help but think of the widow who only gave one coin - all she had left - and how Jesus was more pleased by her gift than any other. It wasn't the amount but the heart behind it.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, christinekv. I've seen the Salvation Army's work on many occasions. They do far more than provide Santa Claus to ring in a Merry Christmas. I never pass a Salvation Army kettle without dropping something in it. When people need help you can expect to see the Salvation Army at the scene whether it's a natural catastrophe or a personal crisis. Thank heaven there are many good Samaritans like the widow whose contributions come from their hearts.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

I agree - I am very tired of people that give only to receive publicity or to demand 4 times the value of goods given for a hefty income tax deduction, These same greedy folks aruond here never get ahead, though - just further and further behind. That's a form of justice. Thanks for this Hub.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I've seen some of those people, Patty. I believe you're right. They do not seem to be very happy. Like the law, justice has a long arm. Thank you.


Judy Cullins profile image

Judy Cullins 7 years ago from La Mesa, CA

Great for the SAlvationArmy. Did you know that many of these good causes are on facebook? Great to get more people involved-kind of grass roots. I'm going to put up a charilty group for poor women to get micro loans for their business since I love the entreprenurial spirit.

Judy Cullins, bookcoaching.com


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

The Salvation Army is the greatest, Judy. I'm in favor of anything we can do to give a helping hand to the poor.


AdsenseStrategies profile image

AdsenseStrategies 6 years ago from CONTACT ME at Adsensibilities@gmail.com

Good stuff. Oprah makes me blanch. She has visited Africa, and STILL doesn't get it!

I was involved in the Salvation Army for a while a few years back -- indeed they rock!

Come check out some of my own hubs on poverty...


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Too many well-heeled people still don't get it, AdsenseStrategies. Congratulations on your involvement with the Salvation Army. I'm sure that experience was very satisfying. I only wish that more wealthy people could experience the satisfaction of helping their fellow citizens in need.


lisadpreston profile image

lisadpreston 6 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

Another wonderful hub that touched my heart. Will people ever get what life is really about? You dont give to get. You give just because its right and good and we are responsible to each other as human beings. We all have our turn of needing some sort of help. I think it is disgusting that people give for publicity and tax breaks. As you wrote, that is not true giving, that is selfish. This is a great topic to bring up for debate. I guess the government thought they had to give some sort of incentive to get these billionaires to get up off some of that moldy money or else no money would ever get donated. The super rich are the most selfish and greedy people i have ever encountered. They have to be pushed by receiving a reward in order to give. Sad, oh so sad. They are so poor in spirit and they dont even know it.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

It takes something like the earthquake in Haiti, Lisa, for the world to help people in need. Everyone knew Haiti had great needs for a long time, but now -- too late for many Haitians -- donations pour in to the country. In my opinion the American government, through taxes on all citizens rich and poor, should spearhead national and international efforts to help people in need before they are hit by crises.


The Rope profile image

The Rope 6 years ago from SE US

Excellent hub "WT". Great discussion topic! Media, gov't, personal hearts, all difficult to reconcile.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for the nice comment, The Rope. It's a subject close to my heart.


Meals on Wheels 6 years ago

Meals on Wheels are a very worthy cause, they supply cooked food to the elderly who cannot manage for themselves. You can follow them on www.twitter.com/mowaged or on http://www.facebook.com/pages/mow/275216323827


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

This is a very good and informative hub. Charities are always asking us to give, but we don't always know how help or funds are dispersed. There are enough resources in the world so that no person should be without food or shelter. Very good article, William.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, Meals on Wheels. I agree that MoW is a great organization.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I appreciate your comment, mquee. The world's resources are indeed adequate to insure that no person is without food or shelter, but countries need to have the political will to do their part to help. Thus far most countries have fallen short. Thank you for the kind words.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

I really liked the ideas in this Hub and the many comments.

I also have a very soft spot for Aunt Sally's Army! I just wish they were less "military" - but that's just my quirkiness, I guess!

Interesting thoughts with which I totally agree.

Love and peace

Tony


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I appreciate your comment, tonymac04. The Salvation Army is the best charitable organization in existence without question. The "army" concept is interesting, but the organization is only "militant" when it comes to charity -- or, maybe, their music. Love and peace to you, too, Tony.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

The Salvation Army is indeed the best charitable organization and I support them in every way I can. I know from personal experience how much they do for the needy. Have you written anything on the history of the Salvation Army? I would love to read about it. Bing Crosby was such a gentleman and gave without anyone knowing about it. It just sends me "over the edge" when I hear about huge donations given by Gates, Trump and other wealthy people, knowing full well it is a tax write-off for them. Please, guys, do not insult my intelligence! Great hub William and I thank you so much.

A big thumbs up!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

There's no doubt that the Salvation Army deserves high praise for its good works, vocal coach. It certainly is worthy of a hub extolling its virtue, and I'd be delighted to write one. Unfortunately, I have several hub ideas I need to get to first. Time and energy, however, are a little scarce right now. But I have placed the "army" on my priority list. Thanks for the suggestion, and, yes, Bing Crosby was a generous man who gave quietly to many causes. I appreciate the thumbs up.


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

I'm glad you pointed out the way these huge donations tend to contribute to the disintegration of our society via the benefactor having more say about what goes on within the organization. I admire those who refuse to be bought.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Those who contribute to worthy organizations are to be commended, Silver Poet, but they should get their satisfaction from the good deed and not expect payback of any kind. The Salvation Army offers help without strings -- that's why I hold them in high esteem well above all the rest.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

I agree that they should not be rewarded at the expense of others.

It annoys me, when rich celebrities encourage people, who cannot afford it, to hand over their money to charity, when they, themselves, are quite rich enough to pay for whatever is needed, without causing themselves any problems at all.


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 5 years ago from Ohio

You're right about the Salvation Army....they will give where they find need. I've always believed that if a man gives a million dollars to charity and writes a million dollars off of his taxes....he has given nothing but a boost to his own ego.

Great Hub William! :)


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, Trish_M, for commenting. I think, as you do, that more wealthy people should use their resources to those in need. I also think most corporations could do a lot more than they do.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I love the Salvation Army, Tom Cornett. They do such great work. I'm still waiting for the corporations to let go of the billions of dollars they're just sitting on!


Faithgirl 4 years ago

Thank you for your wonderful comments about the Salvation Army's good work. I am an Envoy and it is wonderful to know so many people support our work!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 4 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I thank you, Faithgirl, for your good work at the Salvation Army in behalf of those in need and for your comment as well. Without people of good will such as you and your associates at the Army many of our most needy souls would surely be left wanting.


Rufus rambles profile image

Rufus rambles 4 years ago from Australia

This hub is so refreshing to read. I agree completely. I once wrote a letter to my local newspaper in Australia to challenge the self congratulatory nature of a local football club who donated their young players' 2nd hand boots to children in Cambodia. I said that while the boots were no doubt useful, it can hardly be called true "charity" as I believe charity should be giving something that you feel the loss of once you give it. i.e. it would have taught the young Australian football players a lot more about the true nature of giving if they had washed cars and then used that money to buy new football boots for the Cambodian children, instead of giving them their old boots. As I said in the letter, there is no way that the football club would have sought publicity in the local newspaper had their young members given their 'poor' next door neighbor's children their old football boots - or had they simply disposed of them in the nearest charity bin. Billionaires giving money to charity is great - but why publicize it and get tax breaks from it? True giving needs to be from the heart - and it needs to be given without the expectation of even gratitude I believe. The sacrifices that our forebears made (of their lives!) should be much more praised than modern day rich people donating money. I recently discovered my great grandfather's war letters home to his mother in World War One and the harsh reality of his sacrifice and sense of duty (yet lack of showiness or expectation of praise or glory)is so much more deserving of gratitude and praise than these billionaires. The letters on my hub reveal I believe, the true nature of charity - giving what one values the most - one's life! Thanks for this great hub.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 4 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I appreaciate your comment, Rufus rambles, and thank you for your kind remarks. Also, I greatly enjoyed reading your great grandfather's letters home from his military service in World War I, particularly because I, too, have written of my family's history (notably about my grandfather, Michael J. Hogan aka Shamus O'Brien, a prizefighter. It's history that you can't get anywhere else.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

There is no reward in giving when the pay-back is free publicity, tax write-offs and more as you have mentioned. I had a situation many years ago when my husband left me and I had 3 little children to care for. With no job, child-support or financial means, I turned to the Salvation Army for shoes for my little ones so they could begin school.

They were an answer to prayer for me. Not only did I receive shoes, but many other items for the kids as well as food. They also made my house payment and took care of my utilities for 1 month. No need for an application or proof of income at all - they just stepped up to the plate and did it immediately. An exceptional hub William!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 4 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Your experience is a great -- and typical -- example of the selfless, good works that the Salvation Army does on a regular basis, vocalcoach. It's the reason that I never pass their Christmas Kettle without making a contribution. Unlike many other charitable organizations, the Salvation Army performs their good works without fear or favor. If you are in need, the "army" will give you a helping hand.


Sean 3 years ago

I have a different opinion than yours. If you analyze how money flows in a donation made by anybody (rich people or not), "tax deduction" is not a "benefit" at all. For example, if a person earns $100K, and then he donates $5K cash, what happens to the tax deduction is that his effective income is now $100K - $5K = $95K. His tax now is calculated based on $95K, instead of $100K, because charity is getting $5K. There is absolutely no financial benefit for anybody donating the $5K. He does NOT get anything back. Rather, he is choosing that his earned income is diverted for charity purpose, instead of going into his own pocket. Government then taxes on the final adjusted earned income.

The above situation applies to itemized deduction only. I'm not sure if you do your own taxes at all, but no millionaire or billionaire is getting "more" money or any benefits into their own pocket when they donate any amount of money.

There are a few good charities that make good use of your donated money. I always check out the charities at charitynavigator.org, or request their 990 form directly.

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