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My Freedom to Give

I’m reading Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization. During his interview with Dudley Hafner, then CEO of the American Heart Association, they discuss charitable giving as a form of speech:

Peter Drucker:

My European friends always point out how low the taxation rate is in the United States. I say, you are mistaken because we voluntarily cough up another 10 percent of GNP for things which in Europe are either not done at all, like your work, or run by the government with the individual having absolutely no say in where the money is to be spent. That’s a point the public does not understand. Would you agree?

Dudley Hafner:

I agree. There’s a couple of things about this that are very, very important to me personally. First of all, campaigns such as the American Heart Association or the Salvation Army or the Girl Scouts let people get involved, and that becomes important because they do become advocates. The other thing I think that is unique about these United States is the fact that charitable giving is as much a force in the freedom of democracy as the right of assemblage or the right of vote or the right of free press. It’s another way of expressing ourselves very, very forcefully. Someone who pays taxes does not think of himself or herself as getting involved in the welfare program. But if they become involved in a Salvation Army activity or the Visiting Nurses program, they are involved. They are involved spiritually and they are involved monetarily. That makes a difference.

Not everyone would say the U.S. tax rate is low. I’m already paying for programs and services I don’t want, and the U.S. government was never meant to be this big.

Charitable giving to nonprofit organizations allows citizens to vote with their checkbooks for causes they care about. Nonprofits must market their causes persuasively, administer their programs effectively, and be accountable to their donors. Donors, in turn, become advocates for the causes they support and take ownership in the outcome. Compare this with the government model of taking money from citizens by force to fund programs they don’t want, administered by bureaucrats who don’t care.

Donating to social causes I care about, and not donating to social causes I don’t care about, is a form of speech. For all the politicians clamoring to protect my freedom of speech, I don’t see many trying to protect this one.

6 replies on “My Freedom to Give”

I worked with Dudley when I was communications director at Arizona Affiliate of AHA. Great man. It was my boss, Mike Nizankiewicz, who coordinated and helped Drucker write the book.

Mike is a Washington, D.C. consultant now.

Last I heard, Dudley is living in Santa Fe. My inspiration, I believe. I grew up in N.M.

a name: I don’t think you actually believe I’m speaking against public infrastructure, but I’ll humor you and simply say that we’re probably more capable of paying “a la carte” than ever before. Suppose every car were fitted with a GPS unit that tracked how many miles were driven and on which highways. Then we might pay for our actual mileage at tollbooths or at the DMV when renewing our registration. The funds could be dispersed to the operators of highways, and perhaps more of them could be privatized.

So, if I live in Indiana should I have to pay for interstate highways in Idaho – because you do not travel to Idaho.

Your stance seems to say that you shouldn’t have to.

Jordy, I think comparing donations to votes is apt. It seems like there are more choices among nonprofit organizations than among candidates on any ballot, but I guess no one’s stopping anybody from running.

I’d say the ability to donate is more akin to the right to vote than freedom of speech, but other than that I agree completely. The tax rate is way too high (limiting that right), and most of the money goes to causes about which I don’t care, there to be wasted by bureaucrats.

Many (if not most) government programs should be dropped so that charity organizations can compete for donations on fair ground. Let the people donate their own money as they see fit and the free market will insure that donated funds are wisely spent.

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