David Reynolds: Giving

Column by David Reynolds
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I will keep Part One short. Give. There are needs out there. It is the American way to take care of those needs. Whether you have fifty cents or a thousand dollars to spare for a good cause, do it. Just do it. Give it away. You and the world will be better off.

Americans have always been known, rightly so, as a generous people. We give freely to those in need. We give to protect our environment and ourselves. Each of us has our favorite charities. They need our help if they are to survive. And they need this help directly from us, whether it be in time, talent or treasure.

Come on, doesn’t it feel good to write a check for your favorite charity. That charity may not be my favorite. But it is yours. And it is your money. That is more important than whether your money goes to those less fortunate who live next door, or to those half way around the world who do not even have boots to strap on to pull themselves up.

Yes, needs are everywhere. And you get to pick where and for whom you wish to make a difference.

That concludes the first part of this week’s sermon. Now for Part Two. It is about how — not how much — to give to charitable and nonprofit organizations. There are two ways.

First, there is the right way, volunteer giving. It is the traditional American way. It has worked well over the life of this great nation. It builds houses of worship for our beliefs and homes for those without any shelter. It provides medical assistance for those without the means to care for their bodies. It helps to take better care of the planet Earth. You get the picture. We do all sorts of good things. Voluntarily.

Then there is the other way. There is nothing voluntary about it. You do not get to decide how much of your money goes where. While it is often very effective and necessary, it is never personal. There is not that good feeling pay back. Why? Because you have farmed out the job of giving. You are have delegated a job that requires personal involvement.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? Yet we do it every time we say, “Let government do it.” Yes, the other way is the government way. It is a road paved with good intentions, but one that you are not along for the ride.

With each passing day day our nation is making this second road a road too well traveled. We are getting dangerously close to losing the primary American tradition of giving. In its place is the pass-the-buck attitude of “I pay my taxes, let government do it.”

That attitude comes straight out of Washington. It permeates the White House. While the private life may be far from over (as it was in the Soviet Union and is elsewhere), the American private sector is certainly on the ropes. As the president recently said in his speech at Carnegie Mellon University, “Only government has been able to do what individuals couldn’t do and corporations wouldn’t do.”

If what the President of the United States said is true then America has lost more than the best way of caring for others, America has lost it soul.

But, thank the family of man that the president is wrong. I know of a few individuals and corporations and churches that have been able to succeed where government has failed. So do you.

Still we allow our fiscally strapped local governments to include in their budgets money for non-profits with justifications such as “We have always done it that way” or “The funding level is the same as last year’s.” Sorry, no sell. Public budgets are built with private money. And private charities should be dependent on private money.

That’s what happens when you get old. Your thinking becomes out-of-date. Countless individuals in the valley have traveled long distances to help others with their time and talent. They felt like a million dollars when you came home. Why? Because no one asked you to go. And no one asked Walmart, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, the Salvation Army and the Southern Baptist Convention to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. But they did. They gave the right way.

If you still believe that how you give doesn’t matter, whether voluntarily with a check from you or involuntarily through a tax bill, don’t worry. And also don’t worry if America loses its soul. The government will find it.

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