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Stateside With Rosalea: Heeding The Call

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Heeding The Call

Sheesh! Only three weeks into my new job and already Bill Clinton is on the phone to me. Well, not just me. The non-profit organisation I work for is partnering with the Clinton Foundation to battle childhood obesity, so work hooked up a nationwide conference call for us all to listen in on him saying what he hopes we'll achieve. You can read about his motivation here:

Foundations and non-profits are two very large forces in American life, much more so than I recall them being in New Zealand. Back in the day, I was often secretary/treasurer of some voluntary organisation or other and all that meant was that I went to a few meetings, kept the minutes, and did the banking and bookkeeping.

But I soon found out that if you volunteer to do something Stateside, you'd better be prepared to dig deep into your pocket and spend every non-working hour dedicated to your cause. Not just licking stamps and sealing envelopes, but actually on the phone calling people up and asking them to volunteer their time and money too.

My prediction is that in the wake of the Gulf Coast disasters, a lot and a lot and a lot of non-profits will fold, simply because people have given all their charitable dollars to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The irony is that some of the groups that will suffer are the very ones that have been, for decades and on a shoestring, fighting the very things that allowed those disasters to be unmitigated: the folks trying to protect Louisiana wetlands from rampant development, or trying to convince government to put serious dollars into alternative fuel sources to combat global warming and reduce oil dependence.

Another difference between charitable giving here and Down Under, is that people Stateside expect to be acknowledged for it. Foundations are the most obvious examples, given as they're usually named after the people who have donated funds or are getting a huge tax break on their 7+ figure incomes by creating the foundation. There are many kinds of foundations, including foundations to help you set up a foundation, like this one:

Perhaps a person's religion insists that they publicly tithe their income to charitable causes, or perhaps they subscribe to the notion that philanthropy is one of the touchstones of the American entrepreneurial spirit and is a workable replacement for federal or state welfare programs, or perhaps people see charity as just another way to get a tax-break, but whichever way you look at it, social standing Stateside is tied to your visible charitable giving. At its lowest point, this revolves around which fundraising events you're seen at. In fact, "San Francisco" magazine each year publishes a magazine-sized supplement that lists the entire year's calendar of charitable events, just so you don't miss out on your opportunity to be seen as generous.

All of this does not sit well with someone like me brought up to give anonymously. If doing the right thing for the right reason is reward unto itself, then the reward is cheapened by demanding public acknowledgement for having done it. Let alone demanding a tax break! I'm guessing that a very large portion of the people who give to charity here feel the same way as I do when it comes to the acknowledgement, but hey! a tax break's a tax break, so the last month of the financial year--December--it's Christmastime for non-profits.

Call me Scrooge if you like, but I fear they will see a particularly scrawny ghost of Christmas past, this year.


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