Thursday, May 10, 2007

Neighbors, Charity and Social Responsibility

In the courts of public opinion, there are few matters more heavily debated than the role, purpose and impact of charity.

This is perhaps an ambitious claim, as it posits such discussions above similarly heated debates in political arenas and religious realms, but I believe it to be the case. Of course, the discussions are often cloaked over other words -- tax reform, government spending, economic development, etc.

Call it what you will, the question comes down to: "What is my responsibility to my neighbor?"

As fundraisers, we all seek the answer to this question from our donors -- regardless of whether we are in a direct social services organization, a museum, or an academic institution.

While pondering this question, I came across the following article from the Foundation Center's Philanthropy News Digest. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

Americans Increasingly Supportive of Social Safety Net, Study Finds

Support for government programs that help disadvantaged Americans, as well as sympathy for the plight of the poor, has surged since 1994, regaining levels last seen in 1990 — prior to welfare reform — a new survey by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts finds.

Survey participants were asked to respond to three core questions regularly asked in Pew surveys since 1987: Should the government guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep? Is it the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can't take care of themselves? And should government help more needy people even if it means going deeper into debt?

The survey found that some of the biggest increases in concern for the needy have come from political conservatives, Southern whites, and older Americans. In 1993, for example, 28 percent of self-described conservatives agreed that the government should help more needy people even if it means going deeper into debt; today, 48 percent of conservatives are willing to accept deficit spending to aid the poor. Similarly, 54 percent of Americans believe the government should do more to help the disadvantaged, while 69 percent agree that the government should guarantee food and shelter to all Americans.

In addition, the proportion of Americans who agreed with all three statements rose from 29 percent in 1994 to 41 percent in the most recent survey, while those who consistently disagreed with all three propositions fell by nearly half, from 24 percent to 13 percent