December 2010


Scanned image of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Maybe it’s being with our friends and families, or reading Dickens more profusely, or the mulled wine, but whatever the cause, the holiday season tends to be the giving season.  It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s important to be smart about how we give back.  The Wall Street Journal has published 10 useful tips on intelligent charitable giving, linked here, that will guide the philanthropist in all of us to give most effectively so that everyone, even Tiny Tim, can have a good holiday.

(Boston Herald)  The Nonprofit Monitor has been following the Giving Pledge’s success since its inception in early August.  Two more billionaires have decided to sign the pledge: Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz.  Though the pledge is a relatively neutral way to give back, it is not without its contenders.  Billionaire founder of the Boston Scientific John Abele commented that the Giving Pledge is too focused on dollar amount and not of tangible results. “The focus needs to be on the outcomes,” he said. “My view is that I hope to die bankrupt.”  But it’s hard to criticize a collection of individuals who are publicly pledging–not in a legal contract, but based on morality alone–to give away at least half of their billions to charities.  Philanthropist Donald Rodman sees “no downside” to the pledge, calling it “contagious” because it “gives an awareness” to the necessity for giving and promoting a better world.

(The Wall Street Journal)  Indeed, the “contagious” nature of the Warren Buffet and Bill Gate’s initiatives–even outside the Giving Pledge–to make the world better has proved true: across the pond, a school in England is teaching its students about the mechanics of charitable giving.  A program called Philanthropy in Schools teaches young children about the nature of charities and how to be smart about giving.  The Dragon School in Oxford, an institution that once educated actress Emma Watson, actor Hugh Laurie, and tennis player Tim Henman, co-developed Philanthropy in Schools with The Big Give, and the program has been thriving for about three years.  Director of social impact Danny Gill at the Dragon School noted that the school is “very privileged economically.”  He continued, “I want my pupils to start thinking about this: If they were giving a pound, how much of that would they want to fund the project? These are the sophisticated givers of the future.”  Students practice philanthropy by using vouchers and researching various charities’ productivity and causes.

And stateside, the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative holds the same philosophy: to educate youth on charitable giving.  Marni Schecter helped developed the program and noted that economic backgrounds are irrelevant: the program “works regardless of geography, and it has been successful in affluent or middle-class schools. Even kids with poorer backgrounds have taken part in the program and have gained skills that they then carry for life.”  Though the outcome of educating children in philanthropy is yet to be seen, many are hopeful that it will promote a more compassionate generation and a better world.


(New York Times)  Nonprofits may face more problems due to the recession.  In an effort for the federal government to try to get the deficit under control, debate about the charitable tax deduction–a large incentive for giving–has come about.  Diana Aviv, president of the Independent Sector, says that “Pandora’s box was cracked open,” with these new proposals.  Charities claim that reducing or eliminating the tax deduction will produce lasting harm for the nonprofit sector, a notion especially troubling when the demand for charities is up.  But in Britain, a system called Gift Aid is working just fine.  The Bipartisan Policy Center panel suggested adopting a similar plan to Britain, and philanthropic experts are interested.  The idea behind the new proposal is that once they receive a donation, charities qualify for 15% of the gift in tax credit.  If a donor gives $100, then charities qualify for an extra $15 from the government, giving donors a partial match.  The criticism of this system is that it is too bureaucratic, leaving millions of dollars unclaimed.  Director of research for the Center for Economic Development and member of the Bipartisan Policy Committee Joseph J. Minarik asserted that Gift Aid was not the inspiration for the new plan; instead, the plan was to simply streamline the system into a more equal donor distribution.  Mr. Minarik, who also worked to reduce tax-rates on the wealthiest tax payers in the Tax Reform Act of 1986, said that although fears of ruining the nonprofit sector abounded, giving rose by 10% the following year.