Dear President Obama,
You’ve entered the White House in one of the most difficult periods in U.S. history. Your vision of and commitment to a brighter future are compelling.
For a while now, I’ve thought you should create a new cabinet position. Your late February budget, which would spike the cost of philanthropy 12 cents for every dollar given by itemizers earning more than $250,000, prompted me to write this letter.
Your proposal is short-sighted. Instead of restricting charitable deductions, you should lean into wind of tough times, encouraging those whose gifts comprise the greatest share of our country’s philanthropy to dig deeper.
Let me be clear: I’m not a tax expert. My opinion grows from years of experience as a professional fundraiser, which long ago taught me that tax savings alone don’t motivate charitable giving.
Eliminating tax deductions to recharge federal coffers is the wrong way to pump money into our nation’s strained social service infrastructure. Instead, you should appoint a philanthropy czar to secure additional charitable gifts from those largely unaffected by the current economic downturn – and who already give the largest share.
Philanthropy is a significant force for good in the United States. It fuels a nonprofit sector that delivers social services much more efficiently than government and makes ours the greatest civil society on earth.
In times like this, we should invest in our strengths. Appointing a philanthropy czar would:
Toward that end, the philanthropy czar need not be a person of political skill or experience but one of philanthropic qualification and stature – a person like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or Boone Pickens. After having made his significant investment in our nation’s social service infrastructure, he would invite others to do the same.
Sam was right, Mr. President. Just as he responded to retailers’ suburban flight by planting Wal-Marts at rural crossroads, your answer to our strained social service infrastructure should be to invest in philanthropy, not stifle it.
Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.