Op-Ed

We’re a nation of charity. What that says about us and our government.

GoodGiving challenge week kicks off

GoodGiving challenge week, hosted by Blue Grass Community Foundation and Smiley Pete Publishing, is hosting GoodGiving challenge week to raise money for 110 nonprofit Central Kentucky and Appalachian charities, running from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3.
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GoodGiving challenge week, hosted by Blue Grass Community Foundation and Smiley Pete Publishing, is hosting GoodGiving challenge week to raise money for 110 nonprofit Central Kentucky and Appalachian charities, running from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3.

The US comes in fourth worldwide in domestic “giving” when Americans are asked the following three questions: Have you donated money to a charity? (61%) Have you volunteered time to an organization? (39%) Have you helped a stranger or someone you didn’t know who needed help? (72%)

This World Giving Index compiled by The Charity Aid Foundation is aimed at getting a glimpse of global trends in generosity, to show where people are most likely to engage in pro-social activities to champion the growth of giving. Americans are known to be generous, but should the needs of a community depend on charity and are all needs covered fair and square when left to charities?

Today, it might be less about generosity and more about filling in the growing gaps because of increasing pressure on government revenue. Consequently, manipulation of funds has become routine. A lot of Kentuckians express an increasing lack of trust for how the government spends tax dollars and have become skeptical about “big government” spending. They would rather pick and choose a charity they like, than support a government run program.

Here are some facts about the size of charities in the US: The Internal Revenue Service registered over 1.6 million organizations as nonprofits all contributing an estimated $985 billion to the US economy and employing more than 10% of the domestic workforce. To put that number in context, the federal deficit in 2018 was close to $800 billion. Federal spending on health care was $1.1 trillion, $400 billion was spend on welfare and $100 billion on education.

The largest category are public charitable tax-exempt organizations covering a variety of public charities from arts, education, environment, the health sectors, human services to public welfare. Two of those stand out:

  • The health sector, including human services and public welfare, accounts for around 70% of annual charitable funding or $1.4 trillion in total revenues.
  • Education accounts for around 18% or $354 billion in total revenues. In 2017, private giving from individuals, foundations and businesses totaled $410 billion.

This generous support shows that people recognize there are needs other than what’s covered through government spending and that people might trust public charities more than government. People believe their investment is better spent through a selected charity, even though the very same needs, if covered by the government, would be termed “big government spending” and people are against that. Are charities more efficient than government programs and can they solve problems?

Charities are generally all about helping, not about solving problems. Charities pick up where government funding is not provided to fulfill obvious needs. Although charities are non-profit, they constantly must spend time raising funds to cover expenses. Some hire costly executives in order to meet their fundraising goals. Other charities, especially religious groups, promote their beliefs as part of their fundraising and charity efforts. Lastly, charities depend on volunteers, and finding them represents a challenge.

Charities become a menu where people pick and choose what they like. The needs are just as great for those not chosen. Since charities are popular and recognize many additional needs, would it not be possible to agree to a national policy that formulates and funds basic healthcare needs for all, and further include programs to solve problems? Cost-wise, in the long run a “small government” that relies on charities to fill the gaps is the most expensive road. Plus, problems are never solved, just deferred down the road.

What’s needed are government policymakers that can define long term goals for health care, human services and education. A government that’s transparent and accountable to all. If not, we’ll forever be a nation on charity.

Kris O’Daniel is a farmer in Springfield. Reach her at krisodaniel@ncsmail.net

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