Marketplace Scratch Pad

Give whatcha can

Scott Jagow Apr 14, 2009

Not everything’s about buying or selling. There’s also giving and needing. Reporter Jeff Tyler produced a feature for the Marketplace Morning Report on giving to charities. Jeff felt the need to do a little more, so he sent me this:

As I reported on today’s morning show, food banks around the country are seeing a big jump in demand. At the same time, most charities report a decline in donations. Endowments have taken a beating in the stock market, and have less to give. So, when demand for assistance is highest, financial resources are least available.

Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, worries that some nonprofits could go under. He says they would be hard to replace. And this creates a conundrum for philanthropists:

“So what we’re seeing in communities like ours is, people are quite logically choosing between — if I have a philanthropic dollar to give to the food bank, versus I have a philanthropic dollar to give to an arts organization. — Well, I’m going to give it to the food bank because of the short-term crisis,” says Oliphant.

“But the question we all have to keep asking ourselves is, What sort of community, what sort of country, do we want to emerge from this crisis with in one, two, five years? Clearly, we need to find a balance between responding to the immediate crisis that we find ourselves in and alleviating the suffering we’re seeing, and not over-reacting to the point that we’re sacrificing environmental organizations, arts organizations, educational organizations, whose mission is critical yesterday, today, tomorrow, and well into the future. Finding that balance is one of the great challenges of navigating through a downturn like this.”

It’s a good point. I’ve been donating like crazy to Goodwill and the like lately, but I think I’ll scout around for another charity that might suit a personal interest of mine.

In Jeff’s story this morning, we heard from Hedge Fund manager Ken Nickerson, who founded the anti-poverty Eos Foundation in Boston. The endowment lost 40% of its value, so Nickerson and his wife gave $10 million extra:

Ken Nickerson: We had more money than we needed and the foundation had less. And so we actually transferred about a quarter of our wealth over to try and help re-capitalize the endowment.

Nickerson is challenging the very wealthy to give a little more than they usually do.
Amid all the talk about money going from Main Street to Wall Street or from the wealthy to the government in the form of higher taxes, Nickerson’s model of wealth transfer is one I think most people can get behind.

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