Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mandating Philanthropy

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that "A British cabinet minister suggested that financial companies in London should donate more of their profits to charity rather than give big bonuses to employees," reporting in turn from the BBC. GlobalGiving is obviously in the business of philanthropy, and we in fact help many corporate customers in their philanthropy, so in theory I should be happy when cabinet ministers start talking about mandating philanthropy--even informally!

But I'm not. I firmly believe that choice and will are key to the value that both donors and recipients get from the act of giving and receiving, and that in somewhat clinical terms there is a real exchange of value when choice and will are part of the picture. Recipients on GlobalGiving know that when a donor chooses to give to them, they have somehow connected with the donor who on some days can have as many as 400 other options to give--and donors in turn can participate vicariously in the amazing work carried out by project leaders in their communities through pictures and reports from the field. And when donors make a choice--no less than what project on GlobalGiving, but to choose to grant the money to a community leader, they are also choosing to forgo something else they could have spent their money on. It implies they value that gift more than the nice meal, the clothes, the new gadget. That's a key part of the philanthropic experience.

Don't get me wrong--governments absolutely deliver public goods and taxes paid by individuals and corporations are necessary to pay for those public goods. But I do believe that it would be far better if the individuals receiving bonuses would choose to give a part of that to charity--and get that philanthropic experience. I also know that for a combination of reasons, individuals in the US participate in philanthropy at a higher rate than individuals in the UK. Part of this may be tax laws, and if that's the case, I can imagine that there's value to seeing what government can do to encourage individual philanthropy. But mandating philanthropy at the corporate level seems neither fish nor fowl ...

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