Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The ABC's of Philanthropy

Marvin Olasky makes the point in Renewing American Compassion that the American welfare system gives too little. Shocking huh? Not quite. Sure, significant sums of dollars flow to welfare programs throughout the United States, but, are they giving enough of the right thing? According to Olasky the modern day welfare system does not hit the target when it comes to giving the burdened and suffering what they really need: care and restoration. He offers a historical perspective on how churches and other Christian charitable organizations approached charity in the early part of the 20th century ---a method I like to think of as the ABC's of Philanthropy.

A Affiliation - The central idea of "affiliation" is asking the questions, "What community and family does this person belong to?" Then, every aim of the philanthropic activity should be to, "restoring family ties that have been sundered," or "strengthening a church or social bond that has been weakened." The second question, "How can those bonds be restored?" 

B Bonding - This involved a deep desire to know and love the person in need of charity. Past charities sought to develop a relationship with a person. Those involved in giving charity encouraged the suffering to break away from their circumstances to achieve more --and, ultimately greater dignity-- by finding work.

C Categorization - This was an attempt to personalize charity for people with different needs. Categorization also served the purpose of monitoring "the principal-agent problem". This second point is what I will discuss here. Dispensers of charity wanted to offer aid to those who showed themselves "able and willing" to work. Olasky says that "work tests" were, "a key self-sorting device . . . When an able bodied man in almost any city asked an agency for relief, he often was asked to chop wood for two hours or to whitewash a building. A needy woman was generally given a seat in the sewing room (a child care room often was nearby)". The crucial thought of categorization was that by seeing if people were willing to work and understanding their needs we could give charity responsibly.

D Discernment - "Only discernment on the part of charity workers who knew their aid seekers intimately could prvent fraud." We must be careful not to deceive ourselves into thinking that all gifts are good. Olasky cites a charity that stated, "Intelligent giving and intelligent withholding are alike true charity."

E Employment - To help someone get to the point where they are able to support themselves is thought to be the kind of charity that is sustainable and restores the dignity of the recipient of charity.

F Freedom - Finally, all of the charitable work is done towards this end goal of freedom. Freedom, real freedom, is only found in Christ. By challenging people with their life decisions, not offering a handout but genuine responsibility, Christians have demonstrated real love for the person and led them towards faith.

This post has been a brief reflection on these philanthropic ABC's. Though I did not do them justice here a full fledged book review of Renewing American Compassion will be forthcoming. Also, I think it will be interesting to compare and contrast this with the kind of modern day welfare programs ---so watch out for that.

1 comment:

Paul said...

As I was reading through this, I found myself agreeing with each and every one of these criteria, and I realized that today's public welfare system lacks all of the mentioned criteria.
A) The only affilation or bond that exists is the check in the mail from the state, or uncle sam.
B) "Work tests" are absent, the current system does little to separate the needy from the lazy.
C) It certainly gives no incentive for a person to find a job.
D) It is simply a "hand out", and does not challenge people with life decisions, or responsibility.
I believe that taking care of people is seen as the government's role, and therfore many dollars that would normally go to charities do not. I also believe that private charities do a better but not perfect job of follwing the ABC's of philanthropy.
One final thought:
The tax system today is highly skewed toward the top 5% of incomes in the U.S. Last time I looked, that top 5% actually attributed for the Majority of all tax revenue. I believe that many of that bottom 95% will vote to have people taken care of( not necessarily themselves but others, with a good christian intent) on the rich person's dollar. Point being, sadly I believe that the welfare system in the future, will have even more government involvement than it has today.