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Broadening donor choice and creating a new personal agendas is the central motivation in the modern world for philanthropy.

By RAMI KLEINMANN, posted December 16, 2011

The writer is national director of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. This ariticle first appeared in the Jerusalem Post 

A summer of social protests has passed and we are now standing at the precipice of the season for action. Our elected representatives are exercising their responsibilities to society through government committees and regulation legislation. But the public also has an influence on determining a country’s social agenda, which can be enhanced significantly via true philanthropy and contributions.

One example is breast cancer, an issue that was not dealt with at all until the early 1990s. The “Pink Ribbon” Organization raised public awareness of the disease, making it a public priority to support the struggle. Today, it is a “hot” issue in the US and Europe.

Finding a socially conscious issue for companies and organizations to either volunteer for or support financially is not only a welcome activity for the recipients, it also benefits the contributors.

Working toward a common goal creates group cohesion and encourages personal agendas that can improve any organization, projecting pride inwards and promoting solidarity among employees by uniting them in a joint task. Companies that build themselves a positive image also send an important message to customers.

These are both important goals for any sort of organization in North America.

Economic philanthropy models must be built on a foundation of cooperation between the government and companies. The government relinquishes some portion of taxes through allowances and benefits, which are then transferred over to social organizations. The contributing individual or company is able to choose the issues it wishes to donate to.

This, essentially, is the central motivation in the modern world for philanthropy: broadening donor choice and creating a new personal agenda, which in turn provides the ability for people to effect change and to personally establish communal agenda.

Many North American companies in North America already operate in this manner, with the slogan of “giving back to the community.” One example is McDonald’s, a massive commercial organization that focuses on a broad-scale charity project in order to receive tax allowances, redirecting the money towards a cause that is important to the company.

The company’s “Ronald McDonald House Charities” foundation, which maintains a network of homes and family rooms for families whose children are hospitalized for medical care far from home, is an example.

ANOTHER PHILANTHROPIC model that exists in North America is a matching campaign. For every dollar a customer or employee contributes, the organization matches the amount or even adds to it. One example is fetal alcohol syndrome, a public health phenomenon prevalent in western Canada. It is currently being researched at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC).

Using a double mechanism of matching and tax allowances, the government of Manitoba promotes research funding on the syndrome and potential treatment and preventative applications in the community, since in any case it spends $5.3 billion a year to treat fetal alcohol syndrome. This way, it both puts the issue of drinking during pregnancy onto the public agenda and creates a partnership for treating its tragic outcomes.

Not only governments and commercial organizations use philanthropy. Wealthy people are also aware of the central role it plays in modern society. Many families establish family foundations in order to instill awareness of their contributions and create a culture of giving. In this case, the contribution model is to build the fund, receive tax incentives from the government and, of course, to influence society. In this way, wealthy people also ensure themselves that future generations in the family will also be encouraged to donate to the fund.

A culture of personal contributions is common in Israel, but mostly limited to the very wealthy and those who respond to broad awareness-raising campaigns. Israel has not yet cultivated the general outlook that donations can be greatly influential and create a positive social agenda, not mutually exclusive to individuals feeling close to a particular issue and thus donating.

The prevailing approach in Israel is that only the wealthy contribute, despite the fact that even small donations can have a meaningful effect. In general, it is valuable to contribute to the community, educating young people to give and influencing public agenda through action. If it was a given that each person would donate to the various causes that they deemed important, instead of sporadically donating money in response to a specific tragedy, we might succeed in creating a culture of giving that would maintain the goal of improving society.

The writer is national director of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University.



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