Self-Reliance for the Good of Others

Posted: Nov 12, 2007 12:00 AM
Self-Reliance for the Good of Others

At a time of great difficulty for Republicans, one might think that self-reliance, long a hallmark of the Grand Old Party, would fall out of favor with the American people. It would be fair to suspect that Americans might look around and, seeing problem after problem accrue at home and abroad, sit back and wait for government to do something. Fortunately for the most urgent of global concerns—education, health and development, among others—this is not the case. Instead, Americans are taking it upon themselves to make a difference, recognizing that the world’s thorniest problems are often best solved by private citizens and organizations.

Among the signs that self-reliance is alive and well: Wealthy Americans are becoming increasingly interested in donating to global causes. Since 1997, the rate of global giving has increased steadily at an average of 12.5 percent each year. According to a recent Financial Times story, JPMorgan Private Bank has “noted a rise of about 20 percent over the last year in client interest in overseas donations, with high-net-worth individuals looking to support education, health and economic expansion projects in developing countries.”

And they aren’t alone. Financial planners and international banks have seen similar upswings. It all begs the question—why?

Overseas giving has increased for many reasons, but recent global disasters are certainly a major factor. Americans responded to the Asian tsunami in 2004 and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 with unprecedented generosity. Americans also remain concerned about the war in Iraq and the struggles of other fledgling democracies in the Middle East, prompting many to get involved with microfinance endeavors that support economic, education, and health-related development. Celebrities and philanthropic businesspeople have raised awareness of HIV/AIDS, cancer, and poverty, among other growing global concerns, and this too spurs more charitable giving.

It seems like a proverbial win-win, doesn’t it? The global economy grows, making Americans wealthier. In turn, Americans share the fruits of their prosperity with those in need.

What does this increased giving tells us about Americans?

First, it speaks to the sort of Main Street conservatism that permeates the culture, despite the popular media-driven assumption that conservative values are old-fashioned or even backward. With increasing frequency, Americans are educating themselves about global issues and working to fix the problems they see in concert with private organizations. In so doing, Americans breed a culture of self-reliance by acknowledging that government cannot fix every problem plaguing the modern world.

Second, it proves once again the power of tax cuts. Federal income tax rates decreased significantly between 2000 and 2007, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the rise in charitable giving. You say no way, but we do know from the experience in Western Europe, that as taxes went up, giving went down. Why? Because the state was going to solve the problem – not individuals. This leads some to contend that tax cuts hurt those in need. The truth is though, that when Americans keep more of their money they will often use it to help those in need—sans any governmental mandate to do so. Moreover, private citizens will consistently make more efficient use of their resources than government would because private giving creates partnerships between individuals and organizations and fosters accountability. For example, my wife and I are directly involved in three charities – two local and one global – where we partner with government but we also oversee the expenditures, have access to the board, and help shape strategy based on what is best for the local community. In our global charity, we support free wheel chairs around the world (, where we partner with NGO’s or government agencies to insure the delivery of free wheelchairs to people who are trapped on dirt floors in some of the poorest parts of the world. Without private aid, the wheelchairs would never be advancing as fast or as efficiently as they would with a centralized planner overseeing a government agency.

It’s easier than you think to become part of this growing group of self-reliant Americans who are reaching out to help their global neighbors.

One important stop, believe it or not, is the IRS website, where you can search the tax-exempt status of any charity. There you’ll find a tool to find the status of a charity registered after the most recent update, too. One private organization that facilitates charitable giving across a range of sectors is the Endeavor Group, a D.C.-based consulting group that organizes national and international philanthropy for high-net-worth individuals. For every particular part of the world you might be interested in aiding, there is a group that specializes in making that happen. Donors wanting to assist Asia should seek out Give2Asia; central and South America, the Resource Foundation; and Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, the King Baudoin Foundation US.

These are just a few suggestions. I encourage you to consider supporting these or other private organizations that strive to put the resources of self-reliant Americans to work for the good of others.