It's holiday time... what can you give?*
Hanukkah starts at sundown tonight, and around my house that means that the holiday gift season is officially here.
Our oldest child is just big enough now to grasp the concepts of giving as well as getting. So my wife and I have been talking about ways to teach her, during this hyper-acquisitive month, some small lessons about charity. Which is to say, we're trying to teach our child to value something that, truth be told, we don't really value as much as we should ourselves. I've been doing some reading lately about charitable giving trends, and I've learned that I'm kind of a slacker.
Giving is actually a hot political topic this holiday. A new book by Syracuse professor Arthur C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, claims that conservatives are more charitable than liberals. (I haven't had a chance to read it, but this article seems like an even-handed discussion Brooks' findings.) But Brooks' data also seem to confirm something that other researchers have found: The affluent and middle-class are actually less generous than the less-affluent. A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review puts it this way: "If 189,000 affluent (upper middle class and middle rich) [tax] filers age 35 and younger had donated to charity the same proportion of their assets as did their less-affluent peers, they would have donated an additional $2.6 billion, or 19 percent more than they actually gave." The gap is even bigger among older Americans.
Clearly, giving is about a lot more than just having a surplus of cash--or of warm feelings for your fellow man. So what stops people who could and should be giving more from doing so?
In my case, I'd say it's poor planning. Paychecks come in, bills get paid, but often I don't feel that I have a clear enough picture of my finances to be sure how much I could do without. But that's not an excuse, just a sorry explanation.
So I'm going to try to do better this year, and I'd like readers' advice on how to do it. What do you think? Should I only give after I've carefully set down my household budget to see how much slack I have? Or is it better to first decide how much to give and then just make it work? And if it's the latter, how do I come up with the right number?
And since this is a political blog, I'd also be curious to know this: Does the tax deduction on giving motivate you to give more? If the working poor, who usually don't itemize or qualify for deductions, are good givers, maybe it's not so important. Or turn the question around: If the tax code changed so you could always deduct charitable giving, whatever your income, do you think you'd give more?
Update (12-17): Ethicist Peter Singer asks What Should a Billionaire Give--and What Should You? in today's Times magazine. Singer calculates that if the top 10% of earners in the U.S.--those earning $92,000 a year and up--gave their "fair share" it woud add up to $404 billion a year. That's more than 10 times U.S. government economic and military assistance to the rest of the world.
*With apologies and gratitude to the Baby Bard of Brooklyn, Dan Zanes.
I donate the first 10 percent of my income to my church and then give to extra charities that feel strongly about their need. I have found through out the years that the more I give the more blessings I have received. My combined household income is probably in th solid middle income area.
Government can not make up for 40 years of excess by some of the boomers (I hope they are the minority).
There will never be enough jobs for the future 60+'s to take care of all the Boomers who apparently will need a job.
I suspect the percentage of each generation able to retire at the level they want is about the same. For the Boomers, because of their sheer numbers, the problem will be magnified.
The impact of the doomed Boomer scenario will be felt in home price declines or stagnation and pressure on community care for the older needy.
So, what should the prospective needy Boomers do now? Downsize now, eliminate debt, reduce monthly expense run rate,improve personal technical skills and SAVE. There is still time but the actions required need to be done quickly to have value.
Happy 62yr retired
Children watch and mirror their parents actions most closely. If you want to teach your children to give, then you need to give with joy. Until your children ask you why you give so much, you probably haven't reached the point of giving a meaningful amount.
I agree with Bill that charitable giving is something first learned from our families. Mine never addressed it.
But as I have gotten older, more educated and financially better off I do try to give more than my parents did. I believe we have an obligation to give back to our communities and my family never taught me that. Tax deductions definitely make it easier.
I'm not sure how many people feel this way but sometimes I hesitate to give to charities because it's unclear how much of what I give will actually reach the needy. Some charities operate with as much as 80 percent going to administration and little trickling down to the cause. If the organization's finances are more transparent I am more likely to give.
That is also part of the reason I seldom toss money into the can when someone is collecting outside a supermarket or drug store but will write a check to an organization I've researched. But I'm not sure many people put that much thought into it.
I am also more likely to donate to charities that work in my local community, which has its share of working poor, than charities that help people overseas. I donate to our local Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers and Sisters, shelters for the homeless and abused, rehab groups and others that provide aid in this community, but I have never sponsored a foreign child or anything like that. I don't expect anyone to thank me but I do like to see improvements happening.
My advice to boomers: Pay off your home mortgage first, then think about charities. Otherwise, you will become a charity later, just compounding the problem.
I haven't read the article (too tired to click on the link), but I would assume that they don't account for political giving. It may not make a difference, but I've noticed that my "charitable" donations have declined in inverse proportion to non-"charitable" donations I've made to political campaigns (which I did for the first time in 2004). While this wouldn't be fair to measure by income -- rich people have a different set of motivations in donating to political campaigns -- in my mind I'm giving in a (vain?) attempt to make the world a better place, holding the same place in my brain for donations to groups with 501(c)(3) status.
I pay taxes and a good portion of that is misused by the welfare system. Middle and upper-middle class families are hit the hardest by the income tax.
If we were able to keep more of our earned income perhaps there would be enough of us giving to the charities of our choice.
The concept of giving has nothing to do with percentages of society. Helping comes from the heart. To give to those who need is a desire that should be from within. How that feeling overcame you should not be based upon how much a man earns. If one gives according to what his economic value is, then his so called "generousity" will only be an established percentage of his value. That is not a measure of what he is as a man. Helping is not sharing, it is giving up what you don't have in reserve. It is saying that we will do with what we have to help someone who is in need. True giving is a sacrifice, it is not a donation.
Happy Holidays to you and yours,
I think the numbers here are inaccurate because giving money to your church is counted as "charity". Since most of this money is actually used for church upkeep, salaries, recruiting, etc, this is really more like money given to a social club then an actual charity.
We give about 10% of our income to charities, and use the website "Charity Navigator" to find ones that use the majority of the money to actually help people.
Taxes are misused because government allocates tax dollars inefficiently. Second, your argument about taxes is illogical. I would rather be taxed a lot and still have money left over to spend than be taxed a little and live check to check, such as the people in the low tax brackets.
Charity comes from the heart. A person donates because he or she wants to even if they do not benefit directly from it. Keeping a little extra by being taxed less is a poor excuse to not donate.
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