A strat­egy for giv­ing


In the emer­gency room and on the bat­tle­field it’s easy to ap­pre­ci­ate the wis­dom of a triage sys­tem: those with the great­est need are helped first. But few of us, par­tic­u­larly the wealthy, ap­ply that same type of think­ing when it comes to mak­ing do­na­tions to char­i­ties.

De­cem­ber marks the height of the char­ity sea­son, when Amer­i­cans give the bulk of roughly $290 bil­lion do­nated an­nu­ally by in­di­vid­u­als. Var­i­ous stud­ies have pointed to an over­all in­crease in char­i­ta­ble giv­ing in re­cent years, although new tax laws might ad­versely af­fect that trend.

Due to the higher stan­dard de­duc­tion fewer Amer­i­cans will item­ize do­na­tions and that could lead to the un­in­tended con­se­quence of less money go­ing to char­ity. No­tably, how­ever, the group least af­fected by the new tax rules is the one that makes the largest con­tri­bu­tions: wealthy in­di­vid­u­als earn­ing over $200,000 a year.

So, which causes do th­ese af­flu­ent folks sup­port, and how do they make their gift­ing de­ci­sions?

The U.S. Trust study, pub­lished by Bank of Amer­ica and In­di­ana Univer­sity, re­veals sev­eral trou­bling an­swers. First, roughly half of wealthy donors don’t have a strat­egy for giv­ing. They are guided by re­la­tion­ships with or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as col­leges, churches and foun­da­tions, and by their own past pat­terns of giv­ing. That’s un­der­stand­able, but hardly the def­i­ni­tion of a triage sys­tem.

Sec­ond, nearly half of wealthy peo­ple, 46 per­cent, make no con­tri­bu­tions what­so­ever to “ba­sic needs” such as food and shel­ter. Even more con­cern­ing, among the 54 per­cent who did, the amount given rep­re­sented only 19 per­cent of the to­tal. In other words, although a ma­jor­ity of rich peo­ple see hu­man need as im­por­tant, they fail to give it the ma­jor­ity of their char­ity bud­get.

Sta­tis­tics show that the poorer you are the more you give, pro­por­tion­ately, to ba­sic needs. Why is that? Is it be­cause poorer peo­ple more clearly rec­og­nize the plight of those even less for­tu­nate?

Maybe it’s be­cause wealthy Amer­i­cans be­lieve gov­ern­ment is do­ing enough to aid the hun­gry and home­less. Per­haps some among the af­flu­ent are sus­pi­cious of the poor be­liev­ing they game the sys­tem and don’t take enough re­spon­si­bil­ity for their plight.

Such think­ing only ob­fus­cates the bot­tom line: de­spite an im­prov­ing econ­omy and a drop in un­em­ploy­ment, roughly 40 mil­lion Amer­i­cans live in poverty. The lat­est fig­ures from the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau also show that child poverty re­mains alarm­ingly high - due in part to the num­ber of sin­gle-par­ent homes, cou­pled with the fact that women con­tinue to earn less, on av­er­age, than men.

Although poverty fig­ures dif­fer de­pend­ing on the met­rics, there is gen­eral agree­ment that the U.S. has far more poverty than most de­vel­oped coun­tries such as Canada and in the U.K. How wealthy must we, as a na­tion, be­come be­fore this stops?

As I write this at my of­fice in Cal­i­for­nia I’m also over­whelmed by the fact that more than 14,500 of my neigh­bors to the north have lost their homes and busi­nesses in the Butte County wild­fire. And that’s just the lat­est in a swath of dis­as­ters from Puerto Rico to Florida, the Caroli­nas, Texas and Cal­i­for­nia that have left many peo­ple in need.

The U.S. Trust sur­vey says just 1 per­cent of char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions by the wealthy goes to dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts.

So, I won­der, is this the best time to write a check to help the school band get new uni­forms? For the su­per rich, does your alma mater re­ally need an­other build­ing with your name on it?

There are many good causes, no doubt about that, and it would be fool­ish to cut them out of our char­ity bud­gets. But per­haps ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially the wealth­i­est among us, can make a strate­gic ad­just­ment so that more money goes where it’s needed most.

As Or­well might have framed it in this sea­son of giv­ing: All char­i­ties are equal, but some are more equal than oth­ers.

A list of Peter Funt’s up­com­ing live ap­pear­ances is avail­able at www.Can­didCam­era.com. Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cau­tiously Op­ti­mistic,” is avail­able at Ama­zon.com and Can­didCam­era.com. 0„82018 Peter Funt. Columns dis­trib­uted ex­clu­sively by Ca­gle Cartoons, Inc., news­pa­per syn­di­cate.

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