Musings from George

Charity and giving back
October 23, 2010, 5:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I started to write this post at the end of 2008, and didn’t finish it. For much of my life I have participated with charities, and have tried to do some good along the path of my life. I have been in Big Brothers (Todd, you were an awesome kid!), tutored third graders with Yes Reading (now named Reading Matters), tutored high school kids through BUILD, and have been on the board of a parent-involved pre-school in under-privileged schools in our neighborhood through Family Connections. I have built houses with Habitat for Humanity, and have built trails with the Youth Conservation Corps (yes, I was paid for the last one… first time I had taxes withheld from a paycheck, and I was 16 years old). I have been a volunteer coach for a  college team, a high school team, and now for T-ball and youth soccer.

The common wisdom at non-profits and charities is that 5% of the people do 90% of the work, and 10% of the people give 90% of the money. It is not about ability or capacity, because the people doing the volunteer work are often the busiest people and the ones giving money are often not the wealthiest. There is something innate about giving back, about caring for others, that is not “human” in a real sense but is more personal. Why do some give so much (time and money), and many give nothing at all? Books have been written about the topic, and I am certain that I don’t have the short answer to the bigger question, but it is worth pondering.

As a country, the US gives more aid to other countries than any other nation. But as a percentage, we are not the leaders. And as for what we give, we often use our international charity as a foreign policy extension rather than as a thoughtful gift aimed at achieving the greatest impact. Giving our surplus wheat to people in Africa is a classic example of giving someone a fish, while teaching them that it is not worth fishing. We should be building fertilizer plants in Africa, and giving away seeds, rather than delivering food that can be stolen or highjacked by the most powerful warlord in any given region. We should be exporting dam-building technology to Pakistan, rather than airlifting plastic tents to the flooded plains. We should be eradicating malaria worldwide (rathole diverison here: when I heard Bill Gates speak back in business school, I never thought I would be typing “You go, Bill!” twenty years later. What a great way to make your life meaningful — build a fortune, and do something truly noble and impactful with that fortune. Good on ya, Bill!), and making AIDS something that everyone knows about, takes prevention against, and can get treatment for.

Some religions have the concept of tithing, whereby a fixed percentage of your income goes to the church. We have a diluted form of that, whereby the governments collect money from all of us and re-distribute it to some of us (and to others, outside of our country). But what do we owe others? How much should we give? Should we give time and money, or should the wealthy give money and the unemployed give time? How should we value it? Should it be tax-deductible?

We all know some people who do much for others. Take the time to say “Thanks” when you can.



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