Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Following on the tremendous financial outpouring for Hurricane Katrina relief, Marc Sirkin has a great question about donations. Since less than one percent of all donations are given anonymously (according to the NYT), “is an anonymous gift better” in some way? And if it is better, how can we as individuals even make gifts anonymously?

I am surprised by the “less than one percent” figure, but I’m unclear how it is possible to donate anonymously these days. Everything online requires a debit/credit card, everything by mail requires a personal check, and any regular gift (monthly donation, religious institution tithe, etc.) usually requires a special account or a paycheck deduction. As Marc mentions, the only way to give anonymously is to drop a C-note in a tin cup.

I think a major reason for giving non-anonymously (that’s a clunky phrase. Can I just say “nonymously”?) is the tax code. Years back, as an enthusiastic 18-year-old I was surprised that people gave money to their church in envelopes with their name and address. I remember thinking, “aren’t we supposed to give in private?” Then a middle-aged gentleman kindly reminded me of that thing (still new to me) called taxes. I used to give anonymously as a young adult, but now that I’m 38 with a family and a mortgage, I save receipts for every stray buck I give to anyone or anything. I’ll render unto Caesar, but not one red cent more than I have to.

So if you want to give anonymously, I would cram a roll of $20s into the donations box for the Ronald McDonald House or Habitat for Humanity or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. But your accountant wouldn’t recommend it.

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Blogger Kingmaker said...

Why give at all? I mean if the only reason why Americans give is to receive the tax-deductible benefits of giving, then why give at all? It certainly runs counter to the proposition of us being "cheerful givers" (in that cheerful is not based on the return).

In an affluent society with limitless opportunities, why do we give at all. Why should I help disaster victims who fail to carry adequate insurance? Won't I be contributing through higher premiums? Why donate money and clothes to those who "lost everything" when they failed to prepare despite warnings? Why should I compensate people who live in natural disaster zones who don't have a plan for where they will go when the need to leave?

Giving money to charity is one thing. The increasing dependence of charitable contributions or reliance on the federal government to bail people out worries me. We create a culture of dependence that runs counter to self-sufficiency and self-determination. The responsible parties are not those that have resources. The responsible parties are those that acted irresponsibly in the face of an imminent threat.

In the end, we will give and it will be anonymous. Higher taxes, insurance premiums to offset claims, more regulation and government expenditures, countless bureaucratic man-hours, and higher prices based on supply and demand. So why ask us to give...when we already are?

11:49 AM  

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