Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Summer Fundraiser Ends… Also, a Study of Generosity

The Vintner

To finish off our Summer Fundraiser, you might find this report from The Washington Times on the patterns of generosity across the country of interest. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions they reach (some of those opinions being skewed by the Associated Press on page two of the article), reading it was a good way to kiss this fundraiser goodbye.

Similarly, looking at the inferences drawn by The Chronicle of Philanthropy in their journal summaries leave one with questions. However, it was their work that the Times news report referenced so they’re worth considering.

From The Times:

Charitable giving in America breaks down largely along political and religious lines, a new study shows.

Regions of the country considered “deeply religious,” such as the Bible Belt and states such as Utah and Idaho — each of which has large Mormon populations — give much more to charity than others, according to a report released Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The survey, which sampled 2008 tax information for those making $50,000 or more, found that the typical household in a “religious” state, such as Utah or Mississippi, gave more than 7 percent of its income to charity. By contrast, the average home in Massachusetts and other New England states gave less than 3 percent, the study says

Notice several things here: they didn’t look at any givers who make less than fifty thousand dollars a year. That excludes many of the people where we live, and these folks are generous in supporting projects they find worthy. Around her, it’s hard to walk into a country store without seeing a “tip jar” stuffed with small bills and change for, say, a family who lost everything in a fire, or a child with some exotic illness or condition whose family needs may include a frightfully expensive service dog or a handicapped room fitted out.

There is also the front-of-the-grocery-store-phenomenon: many grocery stores permit Boy Scouts, school teams, etc., to set up tables explaining their projects and asking for funds from customers going in and out of the store. I’m sure there are curmudgeons who complain to management about these “beggars” but around here at least these groups are still permitted. No doubt there will soon be some regulatory agency which will seek to continue its own petty existence by ruling out these customs — and then sending out their enforcers to make sure no Cub Scout is found with a leaflet in his hand. It’s a living, I suppose, though such “work” hasn’t a smidgen of honor in comparison to, say, the oldest profession in the world.

Some pages in the journal are devoted to particular charities, but there didn’t seem to be any mention of Habitat for Humanity, though their work is legendary both in concept and execution — and now it’s gone international. When this program first began, the “sweat equity” required of its recipients demonstrated the ‘exceptionalism’ for which we are such objects of scorn. Our government destroyed the housing base in this country via the corruption and machinations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, neither of whom ever looked at the suitability of individuals on whom they pushed home ownership. This fixed game — “Bundling Mortgages Into Eternity” — was ‘played’ by corrupt banksters and their legislators: Barney Frank and Maxine Waters, anyone? We’d be in a much smaller mess today had they not held the cards. And the saddest part is that Habitat for Humanity was changing lives, one house at a time.

Governmental interference is becoming ever more severely deranged and dangerous across a myriad of venues. The ugly rules about curtailing help to religious organizations are mean-spirited indeed. A commenter in the Times report put it this way (you may have to read this twice to understand the full import):

Anyone who gives to people other than their very own religion are no longer defined as a religious organization effective Aug 1, 2012.

Thus a Catholic giving to a Protestant can no longer claim being a religious organization with all the consequences flowing therefrom.

Thus your donations would no longer be tax deductible.

The intent is the hope the organization goes away.

If it goes away there is no buffer between the Gov and the Individual.

It’s Gov vs. individual. The Individual loses Religious protection of word and deed. He violates the tenets of his religion to help others in need plus whatever else yet to be determined.

What his first sentence seems to mean is that if you’re, say, a Catholic and you donate to the local Methodist church’s building fund, you can’t deduct this contribution from your taxes. On the other hand, if you’re an R.C. and give to Saint Jude’s Hospital then you’re okay… but Baptists giving to St. J’s don’t qualify for a charitable deduction on their tax form… Say what? This is indeed passing strange — when you put such donations on a tax return will you now be required to verify your religion to qualify??

I don’t see any legalese references to this assertion and it sounds awkward at best. If anyone has real information about whatever was supposed to start on August 1st, I’d be interested in following up on the particulars. Ordinarily, I’d call this paranoid. But given the last four years’ experience, this sounds Obama-esque enough to be credible — perhaps… maybe. Yet wouldn’t this require legislation? Oh wait… perhaps not. The overreach of our regulatory soviet is quite alarming; definitely we live in a top-down statist environment in this era of proliferation of agencies to regulate everything. Sad, but the fellow could be right.

The Times continues:
Religion isn’t the only factor to influence donations. Politics also appears to play a role, with those in conservative states much more likely to give to charity than those in left-leaning areas. The eight states where people contributed the highest percentage of their income to charity — Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia — all voted for Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, in the 2008 presidential election.

The seven states that gave the lowest percentage of income to charity — New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Wisconsin — went for President Obama.

Well, you’ve seen my opinion about these summations. I’ll play devil’s advocate here:

Those chintzy-appearing blue states are also heavily taxed and unionized — which means a hefty piece of personal income is shoveled off to the corrupt leadership, leaving less real discretionary income. Oh wait — I see a complication here: New Hampshire is a haven for those poor folk fleeing Taxachusetts, so there goes that generalization. The “Live Free or Die” state is apparently simply chintzy.

And consider New York’s combination of heavily unionized workers with the burden of dues in addition to the state’s infamously leaden hand groping into its citizens’ pocketbooks — yet New York still didn’t come out at the bottom. In other words, I don’t think these “findings” are as easily summed up as they say.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a nifty interactive map that allows you to search al the way down to zip code. As the Times said, “the nation’s generosity divide is vast”. But again, I disagree that it’s merely about religion, geography and politics — as you can see the realities are far more complex. The change in behavior of The Rich living among their own vs. The Rich living among regular folks is a good demonstration of how our environment affects our behavior, as you’ll see below.

However, if we’re going to generalize, then say that the Southern Religious Right is simply more inclined to toward the virtue of generosity because they believe acts of generosity are crucial to their faith. In other words, the inculcation of this virtue has a great deal to do with how and where you are raised, and by whom.

Not only that, but the issue is not just money, though there is no denying the necessity of funding. However, as I’ve pointed out to our donors, it is crucial to remember that while money is necessary, it’s not sufficient. And this truism is one that our federal bureaucrats have seriously, even criminally ignored. When contemplating the virtue of generosity it is vital to consider all its components: giving of your time, your talents, and your non-monetary resources. There is also —gasp — the context of cultural expectations.

Virtues arise out of habit and example — i.e., what did your daddy do about being his brother’s keeper? What did your mother do about the elderly and sick within her purview? What did your neighbors do — and if you didn’t know about your neighbors’ habits of helping, what does that say about the neighborhood?

Whatever combination of those components you saw exemplified in your formative years is a likely path for your own life. Thus, as interesting as this vast continental numbers-crunching is, the limits of such summaries by database programming means that the devils (and angels) hidden in the details stay hidden, and all the truths not available via tax returns are our unknown unknowns.

About the other end of the spectrum, the very rich, the Chronicle drew out these differences:

The rich aren’t the most generous. Middle-class Americans give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities than the rich…

The 1 percent really are different. Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities [my emphasis -D]. When people making more than $200,000 a year account for more than 40 percent of the taxpayers in a ZIP code, the wealthy residents give an average of 2.8 percent of discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for all itemizers earning $200,000 or more.

From my limited experience with the very wealthy I learned first-hand some of their quirks. They think nothing of spending, oh, $25,000.00 on a week’s vacation or an impulse purchase of jewelry. Yet they will haggle over a dry-cleaning bill or a car repair. One fellow was beside himself when a rock flew from a riding mower and caused the whole side of one French door off the porch to “craze” — we saw the slow motion shatter of the glass into ever smaller fragments even though they never left the wooden frame which held them. As he watched the process this rich homeowner ranted, almost insane with rage and anxiety about the man cutting the grass, and the company he would have to hire to replace the glass and how they would cheat him as soon as they saw his house, etc, etc.

Just to distract him, I suggested that he and I go to town and wait by the back door of a glass repair company. Then as they closed for the day we could kidnap a likely looking craftsman, blindfold him and carry him back to do the necessary repairs. Maybe give the fellow five dollars for his pains before we dropped him off back in town. My plan certainly distracted this Scrooge for a moment. As he quieted I could see him mull over my daft idea — just before he came to and yelled at me to SHUT UP.

Yup, they’re different, those folk.

A sad current example of the rich is Dinesh D’Souza’s story about being called by a poverty-stricken father who needed help paying for his son’s hospital bill. George Hussein Obama told D’Souza he had no one else to turn to for that kind of money. I guess not, given the slum in which he lives and the Mount Olympus on which his wealthy brother dwells. Half-brother? There are far more than merely six degrees of separation between these men who share the same philandering father.

Read the whole sorry story, including the suppression of George’s book, Homeland. All 20,000 copies were destroyed by Simon & Schuster — on whose orders? Who knows? It’s interesting, though, that S&S doesn’t mind fronting the airhead hit piece Obama did on Romney’s dog. I believe that tome could be put in the genre known as Chicago “Literature”.

By the way, George Obama’s book, an autobiography also, was picked up by another publisher:

Homeland: An Extraordinary Story of Hope and Survival

Meanwhile, there’s an intriguing clip of Barack Obama from April that could be juxtaposed against the well-sourced neglect this president has demonstrated toward his own extended family, including a grandmother in her 90s. That video is an excerpt from a speech given in Vermont last April. There the president explains why we are our brother’s keeper. [See if you can interpret the noises of the listeners. They don’t sound entirely friendly at some points. Since you don’t get a shot of the audience, you can’t tell if the off-kilter noise is about Obama or about, perhaps, a protestor in the group. You can see the irritation crossing our President’s visage, but its source isn’t clear]. At any rate, this speech certainly is audacious. Surely there isn’t anyone left in this country, even in the deepest blue Democrat echo chambers who hasn’t heard about the Kenyan slums where dwell Obamas galore? His daddy was a busy man, even if son Barack behaves for all the world as though he were an only child. Which, in one sense he was, this momma’s boy with the fathomless, fatherless grievances he uses to punish the rest of us. One hopes that the girls can’t hear Michelle yelling at him, demanding to know what he’s going to be when he grows up.

Ah me….

There are many mysteries left unplumbed in those statistics gathered by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In the final analysis are those numbers any more than factoids? Are they really helpful in understanding what fuels a genuine generosity of spirit? And if no one is willing to frame the generous heart as a virtue, and virtue as habit, how will we ever reach the self-absorbed, especially those whose wealth seems only to increase geometrically their insecurity?

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Correspondence #2Y’all, of course, are another story. This marks the end of another quarterly fundraising week. Don’t faint, but the thank you notes have begun — and yes, it’s still fun to write them. From the bottom of my heart, a particular note of gratitude for your patience. I especially have to laugh at our donors who respond, “Oh, did I do that? I’d forgotten. Thanks for reminding me”.

For the entire week (including the last-minute group), here’s the tally:

Stateside: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Near Abroad: Canada west and Canada east and Canada in the middle. What a wildly varying country.

Far Abroad: Australia, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, and the UK

Vlad is very happy for his part — it came at a good moment for him and he was fairly bouncing with glee when the PayPal notice arrived.

See you in November!


Malcolm Smith said...

...sampled 2008 tax information for those making $50,000 or more
That phrase made me sit up and take notice. Here in Australia it would be absolutely impossible to sample tax information in that manner, because privacy legislation would prevent third parties from examining your tax records.
Don't you Americans value your privacy? Or is there something there not apparent on the surface?

wheatington said...

Malcolm, the records would not have contained personal information just the numbers which statisticians were interested in. You are fooling yourself if you think that doesn't happen in Australia.

I have worked for StatCan, Canada's bureau which is in charge of the census and other initiatives to gather information useful foro government planning. This information is shared and exchanged with researchers in the US and yes, even with those in Australia.

By the way Malcolm, I see your charitable giving is down this year.

Just kidding.

Dymphna said...

Tom was refused admission to Blooger's comment section, so here's his info:

Sorry but it seems I can’t get into comments for some reason, but here is an opinion concerning the Times commenter:

What the commenter is talking about has nothing to do with intra-religion charity, such as Catholic/Protestant exchanges, but charity to which no religious qualification (be it proof of sect or religion) is required of the recipient. In other words, since virtually no Christian institutions (kitchens, hospitals, or other charitable extensions of a Church or sect) provide services only to Christians they would not qualify as religious organizations and would have to deal with all of the tax and regulatory, think ObamaCare, NLRB, etc., liabilities of a secular non-profit, at best.

Very slick (under the radar) way to delegitimize Christian charity and removing such institutions as practice it from the protection of the 1st Amendment.

One group that this regulatory change will NOT affect are Muslim charities, since it is an imperative of Koranic dogma that the obligatory charity of a Mohammedan (Zukat) cannot be extended to an infidel or pagan.

Hesperado said...

"In other words, since virtually no Christian institutions (kitchens, hospitals, or other charitable extensions of a Church or sect) provide services only to Christians they would not qualify as religious organizations"

Another possible consequence of this, if it comes to pass, is that subsequent polls or surveys, if reliant upon government stats, about charitable donations, would be skewed against representing the religious numbers. Consider the 2008 survey which Dymphna reported from the Times: "...the survey... sampled 2008 tax information..."

If that August 1 restructuring indeed went into effect, future surveys "sampling tax information" would yield a much smaller percentage of religious-based charity -- except for Muslims who, as the commenter above noted, are religiously obligated (through their zakat*) to only give to the in-group and to ignore the non-Muslim Other anyway.

Dymphna said...


This id particularly troubling vis-a-vis the Salvation Army. They are certainly Christian, and they do insist (in some cases) that their residents attend services. I can't remember the particulars re that however.

But without their services, the small city I know (about 350 thousand the the five county cachement area radiating out from that city) would be hurting to replace what they provide.

In the next week or so, I'm going to call the SA service workers to see if they know about this.

Very disturbing.