Ah yes, don’t discuss religion and politics it is often said. And why not? They’re a pretty big part of our total being. At stake, are our livelihood and spiritual lives.
The “politics” thing, however, does have me walk with some care on a rocky and sometimes perilous path in these days of political topics so hot as to be overheated. The all-too-frequent appearances on television of the “talking heads” with their polar opposite arguments keep the flames burning, and one of the arguments making the rounds these days does particularly tick me off.
That is the strong and intrusive idea of what to do with the money earned by the rich. Many are belligerent about those who are “too” rich. Whatever that means. These are the same firebrands who mostly cannot state exactly what level of income earned by people is “too much,” or how much should be taken from them.
Who decides this anyway?
I have a strong and unwavering opinion regarding the “get-the-rich” drive by all too many people in the U.S. And it’s an opinion based neither on left nor right, nor progressive, nor capitalist, ideology.
With nearly 40 years as a non-profit fund-raising professional under my belt, I have never seen or heard about a single building construction or a renovation of a facility for any charity whether it be food bank, nursing home, abuse or homeless shelter, animal rescue facility, education structure, arts and culture building, religious facility, hospital, etc. which was not paid for with contributions mainly and mostly from the rich.
Most always, such fund-raising campaigns have about 85% or more of the money raised coming from only about 15% or less of the donors. That funding ratio counts on there being people capable of making large gifts—the rich. If we had to rely on the middle class, even at its higher end, it would be a long wait for those capital projects. Nor can we expect the poor to be able to provide a lion’s share of the needed funds. After all, they are the ones in need—the ones the rich are making gifts to benefit.
Without the rich and a tax code that encourages giving, philanthropy as we know it would most likely take a drastic downturn. If we tax all their social capital away from the rich, we may find ourselves relying on a single funder—the government—to support the social good delivered by non-profit organizations. I, for one, am not ready to go that route.
Let’s take care that we don’t eliminate the goose that lays the golden egg by declaring war on the concept of being rich.
Judy: The way I see it, regarding “rich” people, is stated above, both in my article, and in my Comment to Donna. Those are my opinions.
To have a meaningful discussion, when we mutually present points and counter points, it is absolutely necessary for each side to first, totally understand the other’s platform, which allow for the facts as each knows them, to be presented. You have my opinions, but I am not sure exactly where you stand.
To begin with, there is a need to settle upon a dollar value where one can be considered to be “rich.” Some at, or even below, the poverty level may think that a couple in their household earning together say, $100,000 are rich. Is it $250,000 or is it $200,000 or do we begin at $1 Million? It is far too easy to throw out the rich label, but not so easy to make it stick as a meaningful point of reference.
There is a strong and vibrant middle-class in the US, and there will always be, that is, unless, we become the type of government other governments had and have become and have failed miserably at it. That can be easily backed up with history.
Most of the rich I have come to know, became rich from working hard and creatively, initially from their former middle-class position, and yes, many even becoming rich working their way up from poverty. I have no political Left or Right argument here, but why is it so bad for the middle-class, any class, for that matter, to want to be enterprising, work hard, and become rich?
I was born and raised in a poverty environment. You cited me as being rich. I was a Director of Development for a non-profit organization, and I can tell you with certainty that one does not become rich in that way. And my two kids earned most of their own college money.
I suppose, after all, we should leave the current hot topic of “wealth distribution,” and “rich” envy and resentment, to the tiresome and noisy “talking (often shouting) heads” we see too often on cable TV shows. But, the facts remain, as follows, and cannot be disputed:
— The top 10 % of earners paid 70 percent of federal income taxes. Those top earners are the target for even newer tax increases, but the U. S. tax system is already highly progressive. The top 1 percent of income earners paid 38 percent of all federal income taxes in 2008, while the bottom 50 percent paid only 3 percent. Forty-nine percent of U. S. households paid no federal income tax at all. Still, for many, that is not soaking the rich enough. OK, those are the facts. But, so what?, some will say. The rich are still not giving enough. There is no way to satisfy such an unreasonable and non-quantifiable position.
I believe that the continuing assault on the so-called rich, will be what will surely hurt the middle-class. During my 20 years as a development director, I came to know many, even thousands, of “rich” business owners of small and medium-size businesses. They worked up from their one-man shop in their basement or garage, developed products needed and wanted in the marketplace, and they worked hard and long to grow their business to employ thousands of formerly poor, and middle-class employees.
These rich people have every right to their own money, and when there is great exertion and regulation to take those hard-earned dollars away to “spread the wealth,” the poor get nothing but a handout, limited in amount and timeframe, and the middle-class, and the poor, have no jobs and no security—and no chance to themselves get rich. The stats, regarding just whom employs most of the middle-class, always lead to the so-called rich who start, develop, and grow their businesses and create well over sixty percent of the jobs.
Finally, to the point of my article in the first place, which was stand-alone regarding the facts surrounding those to whom we look for really major donations to build and support charitable institutions—
Consider the next time any hardworking and utterly devoted humanitarian, operating say, a small and old family abuse shelter, who has a long waiting list, needs to raise say, $3 Million in a few months to build a larger, safe, and healing facility for those so unfortunate. The funds will not come from the poor. The middle-class cannot be marshaled and organized to give what they may in the many thousands of donations in the short time allotted for construction. A middle-class donor’s generous contribution of say, even $5,000 would mean that the campaign would require 600 such donations. To secure that number of 600 at that level would require about 3,000 prospects capable of giving $5,000 because many will not give, and many will give less than the $5,000 asked.
Give me just one “rich” person to give the $3 Million, or two to give $1.5 Million each, or …. and so on. You get the idea. If we don’t have those rich donors, then the abuse shelter will not be built. We certainly cannot count of the government to do it.
Let’s see now, so there are going to be a WHOLE LOTTA poor people sooner than later. The rich protects themselves, the middle class works to pay for the leeches that do not want to work, or are here illegally. As I look at it when there is NO more middle class, where do you think our so called government will turn to when all these poor people needs a roof over their heads, food, medical…from you rich people….OR your kids…so get them ink pens out, be sure you make out your wills, leave them everything you have, and if its not enough they will tap into your college kids money…..
Donna: Your thoughtful and probing Comments deserve equally good thought in response, and I hope to do just that as I relate what I have learned over the years about charitable giving, relative to your several questions in this particular posting. (Joyce, Dave, and I appreciate your several posts to our other articles. We welcome you as a valued reader and participant in what we volunteer to do.)
— Were we to be together, in person, perhaps we could better, and more appropriately, discuss your rich vs. poor comment, and your apparent certainty about the coming elimination of the middle class. I do not believe the latter will ever happen.
In non-profit fund-raising, at least, I have never experienced any adversarial atmosphere between those giving big donations, and those giving smaller gifts. All were welcome: those major givers were pleased to see the broader community of donors involved, and the givers of smaller amounts recognized their own giving limits, but they appreciated the donations of the “rich” as almost always necessary for the organizations they cared for to continue and thrive. No class envy, and no money envy was ever at home in my literally thousands of such experiences.
— It is not so much tax breaks as the issue, regarding a possible diminishing of major donations, as it is simply that there may be less money to give. That is an important distinction.
— The rich donors with whom I dealt, time and time again, never lost sight of philanthropy as their way to fund organizations they cared about.
— What have I found which motivates Individuals to give to charities, including, and especially, rich individuals?
(1) Philanthropic Nature: Giving fulfills a human need to be of service.
(2) Good Citizenship: Involved and caring residents of a community are committed to improving its quality of life.
(3) Example Of Others: The philanthropic spirit seems to be infectious.
Recognition is not listed. Visibility and recognition have never played a meaningful part in the donation decision-making I have seen from the “rich.”
Bear in mind that these principal reasons for giving have been learned from nearly forty years as a non-profit fund-raising professional, with the “rich” giving their thousands of large donations to every type and size of non-profit you can imagine.
Philanthropy occurs when the donor feels that the decision to give is justified—when the donor shares in a project by helping to make that project possible or to work better. I have found that almost 100% of the time, such rich, major donors, ask for nothing more in return.
Fund-raising is what makes philanthropy work, and philanthropy is what makes our multicultural democracy work, from the $1 donation to the $1 million donation.
— Yes, in another of our articles, individuals do indeed give far more money each year to charitable causes than granting foundations and corporations. And yes, most of those individual donors are not “rich.” That’s because most Annual Fund Campaigns have proportionally more smaller donations, and that is the way it should work to provide a sound and predictable base of support, year after year. Sure, such campaigns as well must have major giving, but when it comes to such things as capital campaigns—the purchase of an expensive capital asset in a short time frame—then, an organization must solicit and obtain major gifts—from the rich, as it were.
— And yes again, all donations are important, of course. Every time we asked anyone for money, we cited a suggested amount. And it ranged from about $100 to in the millions of dollars. In each and every case, we added, “However, whatever amount you choose to give will be appreciated. Even one dollar.
You are practical enough to know, however, that while the one dollar donation is just as important as the larger one, the reality is that certain fund-raising campaigns simply would fail totally, were it not for the donations of the rich. Think needing to raise $3 Million for a homeless shelter which must be built in say, six months. Think too, about how many donations it would take to raise that $3 Million even if the average donation was $1,000. Easy to do the math. We need at least that one “rich” donor to come up with at least $500,000 to build that shelter. “Just as important” here, in terns of the dollar or two, can only be in terms of sincere appreciation.
My sister and I had a similar discussion on taxes just recently about the rich versus the poor, the elimination of the middle class resulting in only two classes, the rich or the poor as givers or takers. The question is do the rich give purely for alturistic reasons? If the tax breaks are taken away, would the rich give and would they give as much? Are the poor really benefiting from the giving of the rich or is it merely that the rich seek recognition of their achievements–a kinda of look at me I have achieved this level and you have not so I am better than you ego driven need to be patted on the back and looked up to? In another article, you stated that 89% of the money comes from individuals, but how many of those individuals are rich? It’s true a rich person can give a larger gift than a poor one and probably receive more recognition for it, but on the whole it has been my experience that proportionately the poor give as much if not more than the rich. Take Delta Airlines as an example. The employees bought Delta a plane. I belive that giving is a state of mind and regardless of economic circumstances, individuals will give to an organization or campaign they feel strongly about. For example, I struggle each year to come up with $100 to give to the St. Jude Dream Home. Do I want to win the house? Yes, but if I did I couldn’t afford the taxes. Do I think I’ll win? No. Do I do it anyway? Yes. Why? It helps St. Jude and children. I think that the dollar or two dollars a poor person contributes is just as important as the larger donations of the rich. I believe donor recognition is extremely important. It seems that in today’s economic downturn, donor recognition luncheons have fallen by the wayside and only the rich get recognized for their large contributions.