Debates about social media as catalyst, about political responses to economic crises, about open internets, about the care of our health… can help us sharpen our own positions and/or encourage us to take on ideas that we had avoided. This particular blog outlet tends to focus on the nexus of nonprofits, politics, and communications technologies, and we strive to show some of ‘the other side’ of a given issue. Yet when Pablo Eisenberg’s recent op-ed from the Chronicle of Philanthropy arrived through our tweet stream, we were admittedly hard pressed to stay on his side – though his passion is to be admired. You should read his ideas in their entirety first. Go ahead, we’ll be here when you get back.
Like a sound diagnostician, he understands the dis-ease of our present econo-political crises: “As Christmas nears, charities throughout the country, especially small ones, are facing tough times. Many groups have been forced to reduce their budgets, trim programs, and lay off employees. Decreases in government funds and philanthropic donations are taking their toll not just on nonprofits but also on needy people who no longer have access to the services and financial support they once had.” Difficult to refute.
But then the rocks start flying. Giving is stagnant at best. Foundations should be required by Congress to give more to the needy. CEOs and university presidents should cut their own salaries or give that cut directly to the poor. Nonprofit associations are called to the carpet for not pressuring Congress and their donors to do more. Even Warren Buffet, the man who has gotten dozens of billionaires from all over the world to consider giving away half their fortunes – the man who advocates by allowing Bush’s tax breaks to the rich to expire – gets a slap on the ear:
While foundations are doing little to respond to the economic crisis, America’s wealthy are doing even less. Warren Buffett last week confirmed that he was paying off a $50-million pledge he made in 2006 to develop an international nuclear-fuel bank to prevent the spread of atomic bombs. Why hasn’t he donated an equal or greater amount for programs to aid the hungry and homeless in America?
Yeah! Take that! Oh, but in 2006 most Americans assumed their home’s forever-increasing value would pay off any debt ever incurred. The Iraq War looked terribly grim, albeit short of a nuclear exchange, yet Iran was flouting UN sanctions against its nuclear program. And who knew – including the man himself – what Kim Jong Il was up to?! Perhaps $50 million in 2006 to stem the tide of nuclear proliferation was a reasonable effort to put his money where his mouth was?
The most unsettling aspect of Mr. Eisenberg’s piece is that it portrays, and demands, a black-and-white world in which millions of charitable dollars are channeled right where and when he thinks they are needed. But is that not precisely what Buffet does? Put his money where he thinks it is needed?
Sure, we can cajole, debate, challenge, even goad, the super-wealthy to do with their money what we think they should. But how profitable is it to condemn anyone who does give? Who does speak out on behalf of those worse off or without political voices? Yes, more could always be done – by everyone. And precious few believe the tax system or the minimal safety mechanisms of our social system is doing just fine. While casting the first stones, Mr. Eisenberg failed to mention how much he has given to, well, anything.
As any good teacher, coach, mentor, critic… will attest: the fact that someone is there to teach, to coach, to mentor, to critique, means that the someone is trying to make improvements and to make a difference. The job is to challenge with specific ideas and to point out the strengths of the effort thus far. Yelling at the student/athlete/artist invariably makes her or him shut down and move on. I’d rather strive Mr. Buffet and many of his hyper-rich friends in the game, even if I might disagree with this or that decision.
Christmas is also about reaching out to your fellow human being.