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Charity first

Each year I give one-percent of gross revenues to nonprofit charities. I like to give what I call the first one-percent to charity, not a percent of what’s left over after expenses.

This is because my company operates in a community where many supports allow me to be successful. A healthy environment and healthy people are foundational for the success of my business, not an afterthought. My community is the ground on which my company stands. I’m happy to take 1% right off the top and give it to charities in my community. I wish every company did that.

All of us are forced to give to our communities through taxes. Most tax money goes to buy stuff to help the government run, but some gets sent back out into communities to help the more needy among us. Think funding for public education, public housing, food assistance, health care, transportation subsidies, and in many other ways.

I actually like paying taxes with the thought that the money is helping my community. I’m one of those weirdos who pays taxes joyfully. It’s a way to help the team.

When I hear people complain against paying taxes the argument sometimes goes something like this. ”I believe in helping people in need, I just don’t think the government should decide where my money goes. I would rather give my money to charities directly.” Okay, anyone who’s ever said that, I hope you are giving your money to charities directly.

If I believe that society should help people in need and if I believe it’s not the government’s responsibility to help people in need, then whose is it?

It used to be that churches took care of the poor and needy. An alternative model was “we take care of our own.” I heard this one a lot in Make Shift Coffee House conversations; legendary stories of extended family pitching in to help someone on hard times, or stories of taking relatives in and caring for them at home.

Today churches are far less prominent in most of American society and far less able to provide social services like they used to. Families don’t take care of their own elderly and sick like they used to. And many government programs are simply inadequate to the task of providing what’s needed.

There is a dire need right now for social services and for environmental protection. I can lobby my government to spend tax dollars on those things but I can also give money myself. Directly. With no government middle man. And when I give to a charity I am making an independent decision and I am participating in a free market. If I think nonprofits should do more and government less, when I give to charity I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

I know, not everyone can write checks so easily and joyfully, no matter how much you might believe in a charitable cause. If you can’t afford shoes you’re not sending money to your local land trust. I’m naming that I’m privileged and that charitable giving isn’t for everyone. Yet a mindset of gratitude for one’s community and one’s environment IS available to everyone; and so is a willingness to give to our communities however we can.

And those of us who can give money to charity, no matter how much, let’s do it.

7 thoughts on “Charity first

  1. Craig,
    I agree with you on taxes, although I wish not so much went to military spending.
    I wish I could contribute to charities. But working my way through grad school on a minimum wage job (which right now I don’t have) doesn’t allow for this. But there is a currency I can contribute in: time. Normally I volunteer with a local library, a community garden that provides organic veggies for food insecure people, the on campus food pantry/clothing exchange, and any group that needs help with a project. I privately calculate hours by what minimum wage is. Like say I spend 4 hours shelf reading in the children’s wing of the library. Nobody else does that. So if I didn’t do that they would have to pay someone. $11 x 4 = $44.
    In the pandemic I have to be more creative. This past fall I did a school supplies drive so I could provide a full backpack to start the year with and have a stash to provide them with when they run out of something.
    I’m excited that once it’s safe to be back on campus when the undergrads learn of my new statistics expertise a lot of them will ask me for help. 🙂 It will be another way to volunteer.

  2. Hi Craig and readers,

    “Charity” has at least two meanings. One is giving help, usually money, to those who are in need. However, another one, not in a dictionary, is that it can be paternalistic, creating superiors (those who give) and inferiors (those who receive). One quote from Martin Luther King Jr. reflects this: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” I try to make all my donations to groups that address the restructuring so that, eventually, all giving and receiving is done with neither loss of self-esteem or vanity.

    1. This reminds me of a video I saw wherein a man who appeared poor tried to give money to people who appeared wealthy in an attempt to subvert that paternalistic outlook towards charity. Those he offered it to were mostly a bit insulted.

  3. Hear, hear Craig!!! Outstanding article. As always, I am deeply grateful for all you do and the inspiration you share ~ Joyce Bailey ☯️

  4. There are many of us in Maine who are fortunate enough to enjoy our own homes, have plenty of food, health coverage, and a feeling of safety. That, in my opinion is wealth. Nevertheless, our income qualified us for the $600 relief checks. Ours really should have gone to people in need as. Maine is a poor state. So if you have any readers who would like to share I’d like to share my thoughts about ways to help many. I split my relief check between two groups. First, Good Shepherd Foid Bank of Maine because they cover entire state and can put money in places of greatest need. My other choice was One Less Worry in Rockland. They are run totally by volunteers. They provide care packs (toothpaste, t.p., soap etc), incontinence products, and period/feminine hygiene products. I am sure there are many good organizations out there. These are just the two that I think are special.

  5. Beautifully said, Craig. Helps me to realize that while I pay taxes dutifully, it’s not a joyful prospect. Mostly because of the portion of our taxes that go toward the war economy. And even more, because of the tremendously unjust tax structure we have currently. But I too am privileged to be able to give and I like the idea of off the top not at the end/leftovers. Thank you.

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