Friday, March 13, 2009

Yeah, Yeah, I Should Help the Downtrodden, But What's In It For Me?

One of the biggest concerns that has hit the nonprofit community recently is the potential impact of the new tax plan on charitable giving by the very wealthy. As part of the new tax plan, charitable deductions would be limited for those making more than $250,000 a year.

That means, of course, that the extremely well off would not receive the same sort of tax benefits for their giving. This could result in a commensurate reduction in the level of giving to charities and churches at a time when they are experiencing a huge uptick in demand.

As always, I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, I can really appreciate the concerns of nonprofit organizations. They're looking at this in terms of their "bottom line," which is providing services to those in need. They don't want to lose the capacity to provide care, and research shows that this approach could potentially reduce the total support for charities in the U.S. to the tune of $3.9 Billion annually. That's a huge impact.

On the other hand, there's that Jesusy part of me that finds the whole conversation a bit ethically challenged. Doesn't charity by definition go beyond self interest? If you're making more than $250,000 a year, you're rich. You're doing great. You've got cash to burn. Is the primary motivator to give to that shelter or that hospital or that community arts center that you're going to get your deduction?

Can real charity be selfish?