Posts Tagged ‘giving’

I’m into philanthropy. Not big-time, mind you; I’m not in a position to exercise noblesse oblige. But I’m at the age when budgeting for annual charitable

All rights reserved by hpebley3 via flickr.com

contributions, however modest, feels somehow mature. If I’d been a member of a faith-based organization, I might have started this process much earlier, but better late than never.

I’m hit up by the usual suspects: charities who purchased my address from the charity I gave to five years earlier; organizations who got my name through the $25 donation I made to my neighbors’ kids’ car wash to raise money for childhood cancer. I receive heart-rending letters from at least four charities focused on women in third-world countries (not including the one to which I donate). I’m often invited, courtesy of my connected friends, to fancy fundraisers that begin at $750 a plate for the privilege of sitting at a table in the back with people I don’t know and watching the tiny speck that is the famous featured speaker or performer. At least the local versions, which usually come in at a quarter of the cost, remind me that I’m part of a community.

I’m generally careful with my research, although I once gave $40 in cash to a young woman who came door to door, clipboard in hand, with a tale about raising money for blind kids in Africa. I never saw a receipt, or the young woman again; but I learned my lesson. No donations on the fly, in the subway or at my door.

At some point during the G.W. Bush years, I began to donate small sums to political action committees (PACS) and I do mean small. I was never shooting for a night in the Lincoln Room but I did want to throw my two cents into the effort to turn over both Congress and the White House. It was fun hearing from Emily’s List and getting thank you notes from the DNC Chairman. I felt as if I were making a difference.

In this coming election year, the stakes are at least as high as they were in 2008, if you’re inclined to vote (I am) and if you consider yourself far more likely to vote for one party candidate than the other (I do). Nevertheless, I’m unlikely to respond to any solicitations that involve politics because when it comes to promotion, my team is poised to play as dirty as the other.

 This year, gleeful Democrats are thrilled to be able to point to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney’s shifts in position in order to accommodate, one assumes, his primary voters. Payback for the attacks on John Kerry!  But as FactCheck.org has pointed out (the site should be required reading for anyone planning to vote), the latest DNC extended video “strains the truth to build a case against Romney by including some dubious claims” which it then goes on to list.

FactCheck’s home page demonstrates that Republicans produce far more questionable media pieces than do the Democrats. Grand Old Party operatives have perfected the art of burying a tiny truth within a mountain of innuendos, inferences, torquing contexts and twisting particulars.  Conclusions are supported by a lopsided mix of semi-legitimate observations and an overwhelming number of outright lies. All a party faithful has to do is point to the legitimate sliver of the message and say, “You can’t argue with that.” Hell, our candidates are happy to argue it isn’t absolutely essential, when making a larger point, to stick to the facts.

Meanwhile, political strategists assume we’re simultaneously biased (we already know what we like and don’t like) and inattentive and/or overwhelmed, which is why the credo “keep it simple, stupid” (KISS) is so popular. The problem when playing KISS and tell is that truth often has to leave the room.

Truth-twisting may be necessary to campaigning; it may even be inevitable—I hope not.  But I don’t have to pay for it. When Women for Women International tells me my money is going to sponsor women in war-torn countries, I believe it. When the DNC insists my donation will be used to get the truth out to the American people, I don’t.

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New York City has recently been host to other events besides President Ahmadinejad ‘s visit. For example, the Clinton Global Initiative just concluded its three-day conference. The organization was begun three years ago by former President Clinton with the goal of turning “good intentions into real results” through commitments to programs or actions in one of four areas: education, energy and climate change, global health and poverty alleviation. Membership in the organization is by invitation only. The conference this year brought together an assortment of people: current and former heads of state, business leaders, noteworthy academicians, and key non-profit representatives, along with some serious celebrity star power, courtesy of Shakira, the ever-present Jolie-Pitt team and Andre Agassi. Also present were folks like Tony Blair and Al Gore who bring their own brand of celebrity in the way certain ex-politicians do these days. The media was represented by people like the ubiquitous Rupert Murdoch as well as noted columnist Nicholas Kristof, who looked both delighted and stunned to be interviewing the stunning Ms. Jolie. At first, it appeared to be another one of those high-powered conferences, cerebral yet sexy, complete with notable invitees, fabulous food, stimulating conversation, important papers and press releases, all followed by plans for another conference. But appearances can be deceiving. CGI demands not only answers but action. Registration is $15,000 for the event, but all the money in the world won’t get you invited back if you don’t live up to your commitment. Real programs are initiated or continued, like the rebuilding program in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to which Brad Pitt is committed, bluntly and appealingly called “Make It Right.”

Mr. Clinton is expanding the reach of the organization in two ways, by reaching out to college campuses and allowing those of us with less money, clout or celebrity to become involved through its new website. Even though you and I may never get to hang with all the movers and shakers and beautiful people, we could conceivably be part of a vast private effort to right the world’s wrongs. Sure, it sounds naive but it also sounds lots more helpful than those conferences that produce ideas but no follow-through. This could be one group that, by virtue of its cross-cultural influence and PR savvy, might actually be able to make it right – or at least a little better.

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