3 questions about charity, responsibility, and government


noun: 1. benevolent goodwill toward others. 2. generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless. 3. An organization that helps people in need.

Hawaii is a truly giving state. In 2014, an inspiring 93% of Hawaii households donated money or goods, or volunteer their time in the community, according to the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Hawaii Giving Study 2015. Households of all income levels increased their giving and volunteering. Around the nation, people are giving more and planning more of their giving.

But it seems as if there are more people in need than ever. Here are three giving numbers to think about:

  1. $2.76 billion: the amount the Hawaii Department of Human Services spent on social programs in 2014 (State of Hawaii Department of Human Services Annual Report on Fiscal Year 2014, FY 2014 Budget).
  1. $597 million: the amount Hawaii residents donated to charities and nonprofits in 2014, of which $418 million (70%) stayed in the state, according to Hawaii’s Giving Study 2015.
  1. 4,250: the number of charitable organizations registered with Hawaii’s Tax and Charities Division (as of July 10, 2015).

I was raised with my grandmother’s generosity. A devout Christian, she gave money to her church, pastors, and missionaries. She volunteered at her church and always set aside money to give to others, before she spent money on herself. She worked part-time, but it was usually for her spending money. She didn’t have to worry about paying bills or balancing a checkbook.

My husband gave me a different perspective on charity: he believes that we donate enough money to charities through our taxes, and he doesn’t feel the need to give more. Of course, I knew that our taxes pay for social services, but I hadn’t really connected taxes with “giving” before. I couldn’t argue with his viewpoint; unlike my grandmother, I worry about paying bills and budgeting. But the difference is that I choose where to give, and government chooses for me.

I don’t have any easy solutions or cost-saving ideas to helping people who need food, medical services, or housing. I don’t want to blame anyone for their circumstances or blame government for not taking care of people. This week, please think about three broader questions about charity and responsibility:

* Why do more people need help? If people need help, they usually turn first to family and friends, then to the community, and finally to government. But today, we have more single-parent families, smaller families, and families that live farther away from each other. Has government become the “family” we turn to for help? Do we expect more help, for longer periods of time, when we fall on hard times? Did we stop helping individuals and families because government became responsible for charity?

* How did we get here? Government has created a social “safety net” for all of us, not just the most vulnerable for a limited amount of time. Did government, though lawmakers and legislation, end up helping people because it meant winning elections, or because the community couldn’t? Does the community, through churches and charities, end up helping people because the government is ineffective?

* What is the most effective balance between government services and local charities? Government has the advantage of legislation, greater funding, economies of scale, and a network of other agencies to call upon. Local charities have the advantage of first-hand knowledge of an issue, a first-name basis with people in need, quick response time, and volunteers who can help keep costs down.

What charities and organizations do you support? Why do you give?

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