True Charity: Selfless, Not Self-serving
The Salvation Army: A True Charity
Celebrities Lend a Helping Hand
The Good Sisters of Charity
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.