Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Just read Andrew Taylor's post An Unpleasant Argument. In his post he struggles with donor challenges about how to prioritize the recipients of charitable gifts:
Why should people give to your organization rather than support the poor, the hungry, or the destitute? And why should your donors get a tax break on their gifts?

It reminded me of something that happened during the Katrina disaster. Rescuers enforced triage rules and refused to allow people to bring their pets. Of all of the horrors that occurred during the bungled emergency response, this gave me the most pause. It was a double punch, first you've just lost your home and you've been sitting on a roof fearing for your life and then, forced to leave your family cat or dog to a certain death (drowning or starvation).

I knew, with every shred of logic I have, that the triage strategy was correct. People first, pets second. And there were people everywhere, stranded and dying and desperate. There's no time in that picture to go back for kitty. But...I also knew if I were on that helicopter, I'd get that family pet on the ride. I'd no more take the mother and leave the child.

And I get it, in early response decisions have to be made, and it's ultimately about saving those with the best chance of survival. The given is that everybody isn't going to make it. On that scale of decision making pets don't even make the scale. But...

All of this brings me back to why I started this blog...to explore nonprofit identity. Why do we get a tax-deduction? Do we not get it if our charity isn't deemed noble enough? Do we not get it if we are large like a hospital? If we're financially successful should we stop getting donations?

Would we be human if we gave to the poor but never gave to the arts? Are we inhuman for giving to the arts when there is a hungry child anywhere? Could I leave a puppy behind? There are cold hard truths here, but maybe not the ones that seem most obvious.

It really isn't so simple as to rank priorities. Here are a few anecdotal thoughts: are artists rich (or starving?), does art create hope? does hope inspire us to give? is Michelangelo more important than Mother Teresa (or vice versa)?

I hope when we are asked the tough questions that we do have a strong enough sense of our industry identity, to say art has a critical place in society, or to ask how much of it would come to the public at all without financial support; or to say (and maybe this is the hardest) that even if we gave everything right now, it wouldn't end social problems, it wouldn't end world starvation, it wouldn't heal all of the sick.

Perhaps once in a long while, we have to stop and read a sonnet, or listen to a canon, or even (and don't let this once take you too far aback) have a good laugh, or a little fun.

I say whatever it takes to get help to everyone who needs it, but not at the expense of our humanity.

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1 comment:

MarKA said...

Hey Pam-
I think you are right on it!!