Having worked in and among the nonprofit sector for almost a decade, I am struck by the irony of the national debate regarding reduction of the charitable tax deduction.
Nonprofits are mobilizing and imploring elected officials to forgo any limitation of the tax deduction, citing their fears of a downturn in charitable giving upon which they rely heavily to make their "mission and means meet."
This fear has considerable merit: a study published by the Urban Institute's Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy indicated the loss in charitable revenue to charities nationwide would be a minimum of$2.9 billion dollars a year.
The nonprofit sector recognizes that limiting the charitable tax deduction will do more harm to the poor and those in need of their supportive services than any harm done to the truly wealthy.
The recent Washington Post commentary republished in The Modesto Bee ("The Cost of Giving," Dec. 4) portrayed a fictional wealthy donor who gave $10 million to expand a hospital wing where his wife received quality care. The author did the math to illustrate how charitable gifts reduce the billionaire's tax bill.
Yet the column and the larger debate miss the finer points of philanthropy and the impact of giving on the "common good." Won't patients and families benefit from the facility in the years ahead? What is the price tag for this "common good" that is created by one person's act of giving?
While there are no easy answers, these questions and the true value of charity bears serious consideration in the media and in Washington, D.C.
In 2011, the United States was ranked the most charitable nation on earth by Charity Aid Foundation. Through the charitable tax deduction, Americans can give to the causes and nonprofit organizations they're passionate about, and get tax deductions for doing so. This tax deduction is rooted in the concept of civil society that is vital to this country: helping those in need ultimately helps all of us. And it's this spirit of generosity that sets us apart from many other countries.
In Stanislaus County, philanthropy has brought even more bounty to a region famous for its agricultural bounty. Philanthropy comes in many shapes and sizes; it's not synonymous with wealth but with a love of others and a desire to see one's surroundings made better. We are all philanthropists, because we give in some way to make our community a better place to live.
Philanthropy is the reason Stanislaus County has a vibrant local nonprofit sector that feeds the hungry, shelters victims of violence, gives hope to the young and stirs the imagination through the arts.
The charitable tax deduction is powerful and should be preserved in some form. It is ironic that acts of philanthropy are not financial transactions, they are deeply emotional transactions. People give as an act of gratitude, of humility and largess of spirit, to "pay it forward" and to give back to the community that has supported them.
Many local donors are hard-pressed to call themselves philanthropists; they are simply committed, concerned citizens who love their community. Beyond financial contributions, they devote considerable time and energy to helping nonprofits improve lives in our region. Our nonprofits and in turn, our community greatly benefit from the charity of these individuals and families.
The reduction in charitable dollars will come as we serve more with less in the shadows of recession. Ultimately, the sum of charitable giving the sharing of both financial bounty and our compassion is priceless to our country and to our community.
Kaanon is the chief executive officer of Stanislaus Community Foundation.