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Archive for June 13th, 2017

To give or not to give

I received a letter the other day from a foundation – I won’t tell you which one – asking me to contribute to their efforts. Just for the hell of it, I checked out a web site that told me the chief executive officer of that foundation makes an annual salary of $203,000. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s an awful lot of money. It sort of pissed me off. I’m a retiree, living on an income of well below – and I mean well below – even $85,000 a year. Even though the price of food, house insurance, property taxes, prescription medications, etcetera, continue to rise, my annual income doesn’t.

I enjoy giving to charities that I feel should be supported. There was a time when my gift was measured in the number of hours I volunteered. I sat in a room on a Saturday morning and recorded books for the blind. I oversaw Tee shirt sales for a race that benefited Amnesty International, did a whole pile of work for the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge which benefits the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center, and volunteered for several other charity events. Hey, I was working higher education, and if you don’t know, you-do-not-get-rich-in-that-field.

Today is a different story. My back and legs are shot to hell. I can’t stand in one place for more than a couple of minutes and I can’t walk 25 yards without having to stop and rest for a moment. The days of running around, putting glow sticks to mark a route for volunteers to follow after they’ve parked their cars in a designated lot at 3:30 in the morning are far behind me. It was a great deal of fun while it lasted but while the spirit may be willing, the flesh has other ideas.

I’m not going to kid you, I’m making more money in retirement than I did when I was working. Seems kind of strange, doesn’t it, but that’s the way our retirement plan worked out. So now, instead of volunteering my body, I do make modest contributions to those charities that I believe are really helping people. I will not, however, contribute to any charity where the CEO is making three or more times the amount of money that I am. And that’s just the reported salary. Heaven only knows what other perks are included with the job, e.g., car, expense account, clothing allowance, etcetera.

Perhaps it’s the fact that a good part of my career in higher education was spent on the periphery of fund raising, but I know that “giving until it feels good,” is not just a slogan coined by some development officer many years ago. I know that when I support the Williamsburg Foundation or Rosie’s Place or some other charity, it gives me a warm feeling. On the other hand, when I look at a request from an organization such as AARP, and learn that the chairman of the Foundation is making better than half a million bucks, I just don’t feel the need to put forth any more of my dollars.

For a long time, the wealthy of this country gave 1.3 percent of their wealth to charity. On the other hand, those classified as “poor” were giving 3.2 percent. Of course, that figure is deceiving, but it wasn’t until 2010 that things got serious. It started simply enough, and I quote, “In August 2010, 40 of America’s wealthiest individuals and couples joined together in a commitment to give more than half of their wealth away. Created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, the Giving Pledge came to life following a series of conversations with philanthropists around the world about how they could collectively set a new standard of generosity among the ultra-wealthy.” Oh, sure, you may be thinking, they have all that money so they can afford to do it, but think about it…half of their wealth? Just think of what can be done with “all of that money.”

“The Giving Pledge is a simple concept: an open invitation for billionaires, or those who would be if not for their giving, to publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. And it is inspired by the example set by millions of people at all income levels who give generously–and often at great personal sacrifice–to make the world better. Envisioned as a multi-generational effort, the Giving Pledge aims over time to help shift the social norms of philanthropy toward giving more, giving sooner, and giving smarter.”

Okay, so maybe you and I can’t give away half of our “wealth,” if that’s what you want to call what we have, but our contributions are just as important as someone who gives a million bucks. Don’t laugh, it’s true. It’s true because that five dollars or twenty-five or more may be harder for us to part with than it is for the billionaire to part with a million. If you give canned goods to the US Postal Service or drop a buck in a fireman’s boot; if you can’t walk out of a store at Christmas time and put some coins or a bill in a Salvation Army kettle, doesn’t it make you feel a bit better about yourself? Damned right it does.

I’m not asking you to go out and become a philanthropist. I am asking that you consider finding a charity in which you have an interest. Check it out carefully. If you like what you see, think about making a small contribution to help that charity continue its work. At first, you might believe that your modest contribution doesn’t mean one whole helluva lot, but trust me, it does. I like to put it this way: “Who knows, it may be my single dollar, the last buck, that will help find a cure for cancer or provide a meal for a homeless person in a shelter.” It’s not the amount that is important, it’s the thought behind that gift.

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