A Few Words about Philanthropy

GivingI accepted a donation this morning for the non-profit organization I work for, from the Verizon Foundation, in the amount of $20,000. Since I had no other burning issues for this week’s post (lobbyists, feel free to breathe a sigh of relief!), I thought a few comments about philanthropy would be in order. Not only is it “seasonally appropriate,” but it provides a bit of a contrast to my usual invective against selfishness.

Philanthropy is “big business” in this country. At this morning’s meeting, the Verizon Foundation distributed close to half a million dollars to 20 or so non-profit social service organizations in the general areas known as the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire regions of Southern California. Nationally, the Foundation makes grants totaling millions of dollars every year.

According to the Giving USA Foundation, which tracks such things, philanthropic giving in this country amounted to some $295 billion in 2006. Most of this money came from individuals; only 4.3% of the total came from corporations and corporate foundations. About one third of all tax deductible gifts — the largest single “chunk” — goes to religious institutions. Social service agencies get maybe 10%.

In 2005, more than one in every four adults reported doing some volunteer work. I don’t know exactly what definition was used. Chances are that coaching your kid’s soccer team counted.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy (12/10/09), Bill and Melinda Gates have contributed approximately $21 billion to their foundation. The most recent gift of $350 million will pay for the building of the foundation’s new headquarters building in downtown Seattle.

The same issue of the Chronicle reports that Goldman Sachs has pledged $500 million “to help develop small businesses and train entrepreneurs.” (It occurs to me that successful entrepreneurs sometimes end up using the services of a large financial services firm, when they take their companies public.) Skeptics have accused the company of trying to buy a more positive image, pointing out that half a billion dollars is a small fraction of the amount the company pays in bonuses to its employees.

ron-wolffBusinesses wouldn’t try to purchase good will by making charitable donations — would they? If they did, would it be a bad thing?

Ron Wolff

Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appeared. Republished with permission.

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