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Philanthropy is a Personal Choice: A Response to an Editiorial in the Chronicle for Philanthropy

February 2, 2012

By Terri Lee Freeman
President, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region

I remember when I first became involved in philanthropic activities and the company where I worked was considering establishing a corporate foundation. The most challenging part of the process was determining the focus for the foundation’s activities. It truly was a process. I met with the majority of officers at the corporation and there were many suggestions and ideas. But after it was all said and done, we determined that we would focus on children, youth and families, with a specific interest in supporting foster children and the foster care system, and preventing child abuse and neglect.

Fast forward to my time at The Community Foundation, where I am continually fascinated by the variety of giving interests of our donor partners, some focus predominantly on health, both institutional based and issue based. Some demonstrate more of an interest in social justice and research. Others have found their niche in the arts and culture arena, supporting a thriving local arts community as well as prominent national institutions. And the list of interests goes on and on. But ultimately all are interested in contributing to the public good through their contribution to The Community Foundation.

That’s why I was taken aback at an editorial published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy last week that took direct aim at individual philanthropy that supports programs outside the realm of social services. I strongly believe that the beauty of our American system of philanthropy is based on two elements. First, it is extremely personal. An individual can contribute and create change in the issues they find most interesting and by their definition, those needing their support, as long as it is genuinely philanthropic. Second, we provide an incentive through tax deductions for philanthropic support of the public good. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is being able to introduce donors to nonprofit organizations in our region, doing incredible work and supporting our most vulnerable residents.

Perhaps a donor supports animal welfare by contributing to the National Zoo. I can affirm that giving as well as encourage them to support local organizations like the Washington Animal Rescue League. Or maybe their interest is in supporting higher education through scholarships to private institutions. I can provide them with information about Generation Hope, an organization that supports teen parents trying to obtain their college degree. It can be a both/and situation as opposed to an either/or.

While my personal giving interests may be on sustaining a safety net for the families in our region, I’m satisfied to know that someone has an interest in maintaining our national monuments. Their philanthropic investment is a benefit to all of the children and families I want to help, as well as the region and the nation.

Trying to dictate where an individual should give is a very slippery slope; one that I have no interest in sledding down.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pat Read permalink
    February 10, 2012 11:16 pm

    Thank you Terri Freeman for this thoughtful argument supporting the vast range of ways in which donors support the quality of life for all in communities throughout the nation. I have seen the joy in the eyes of children from many different income levels as they watch the pandas at the zoo, experience beautiful music in churches and concert halls, and learn about their history and culture, as well as the history and culture of others, in museums and monuments. I am grateful that our nation’s tax system recognizes through tax exemption and tax deductions the value of all of these philanthropic gifts and I, too, hope our lawmakers won’t be tempted to take that dangerous sled ride.

  2. Dan permalink
    March 1, 2012 6:38 pm

    A personal choice, but one given enormous public subsidies. Given that, it is certainly fair to debate the merits of various projects. And we’re already dictating where a donor should give money- we don’t allow tax deductible donations to for profit entities, and I happen to think somewhere like Busboys and Poets does as much social good as many nonprofits. So where we draw that line- what sort of things should be tax deductible and what shouldn’t, and by extensions, which are more socially useful- is a great topic for discussion.

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