Friday, June 29, 2012

My Charitable Giving Profile

Responding to a post from Beth Kanter

My giving is focused and specific. In particular, I avoid charities performing functions that ought to be performed by the public domain. Specifically, health care and research, education and social welfare all ought to be managed by the government. These should not depend on charities because they are matters of urgent social need and because funding from charities disappears precisely when these are needed most.

Consequently, my giving is focused in two areas that are outside the domain of government: advocacy, and socially-responsible investment. This means that I give to political organizations such as labour advocacy groups, Occupy, Live 8 and One, issues campaigns, political parties, and independent agencies such as Amnesty International. And it means that instead of investing to enrich myself, I invest to improve society, and in particular, support credit unions and co-ops, and support international microlending such as Kiva.

Some people may not consider any of this charitable giving at all. Most of the recipients of my charitable dollars do not even qualify for charitable status. But the underlying purpose of my giving is to do good, rather than (say) qualify for a tax return or receive credit for funding. Moreover, many of the problems in society exist not because of a lack of means but because of a lack of political will.

From my perspective, much charitable giving actually *contributes* to this lack of political will, rather than addressing it. The most urgent health and welfare needs stem from poverty and oppression, yet high-profile charitable research into advanced diseases diverts attention away from these issues. Meanwhile, these private charities also foster the perspective that medical research ought to be funded by private agencies rather than by and for the public good.

My observation is that a great deal of the money raised by the foundations is directed toward those least in need of it. I have commented, for example, on the way educational foundation money is directed toward such needy agencies such as Harvard and MIT. Aid money - even research aid money - would have much more of an impact if directed toward nations and people unable to otherwise conduct the work.

The WiserGiving quiz bears this out (I actually took it after making the above remarks, and was mostly able to identify each of the different approaches in the questions). Here's how it describes my responses:

"Your dominant WiserGiving Style is Increasing Effectiveness of organizations, which strives to strengthen an organization so that it can better perform its mission, exert greater impact, and be increasingly sustainable over the long term. You have two secondary WiserGiving Styles, Direct Services, which focuses on the individual as the agent of social change; and Making Change Stick, which protects hard-won gains achieved in the legal and public opinion arenas."

You might wonder why I wouldn't choose options related to 'building movements' and 'research and big ideas' or even 'public policy'. In general, each of these caters in some way to the elitism I criticize above; building movements is about leading people, public policy is about influencing leaders, and research is about funding people who already have money. It's not that I don't think any of these are important, it's that the methods described to obtain the aims are incorrect.

Take 'leading people' for 'building movements', for example. The survey instrument describes these as including "Examples include: Occupy Wall Street, Anti-Bullying campaigns, Pro-Choice, and the Tea Party." These do not belong together in a single category. Some, like Occupy, are much less leader-dependent than others. Some, like Occupy, are not *mass* movements like the others, but are rather composed of relatively small actions intended to make a statement. Occupy doesn't have *followers* the way the other movements (and movements in general) have.

My view is that, in general, in order to enable effective social change, we need to bypass and circumvent traditional power-centered approaches. Instead of trying to change banks, for example, we should work to achi3eve economic objectives, such as lending, in other ways. Instead of catering to elected officials, or running for office, we should create mechanisms through which we govern ourselves. Instead of charity as 'giving' from the powerful to the poor, whether it is direct aid or the giving of end-specific gifts (like, say, 'an education') we need to focus on reducing the disparity between rich and poor and in enabling the disempowered to create the putative 'gift' for themselves.

Most writing and literature regarding charity actually undermines these objectives. Most charity still takes the perspective of a voluntary transfer (usually with conditions) of direct aid from the wealthy (rich, powerful) to the needy, and usually in such a way as to reinforce, rather than ameliorate, the division that created the need in the first place.

People need to realize:
- a donation to an anti-Cancer fund is a vote for a privatized health care system,
- a petition campaign entrenches a hierarchical political system,
- a research program typically entrenches the division between educational opportunities
- direct purchased aid enriches western manufacturers and agriculture at the expense of those elsewhere

Until they do, they will continue to conduct their charitable activities in such a way as to continue to create the need for charity, rather than to achieve its elimination.

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