Let’s start with what we Americans broadly agree on: We want a more opportunity-filled society. In other words, a renewed American Dream where those born into tough circumstances can climb out of the hole. We want new cures for disease and new innovations. We want our education system to be better.
The problem is, how do we fund it all? Conservatives hate government as an instrument of social change. And liberals don’t trust private industry to handle the chore either. So how do we get more solutions without more government or profit motive? I propose we make better use of one of the more trusted sectors in our society: Non-profit groups.
Just think of the potential. Less HUD, more Habitat for Humanity. Less EPA, more Riverkeepers. Jobs programs would become more innovative. Medical researchers could experiment with new Alzheimer’s treatments. You get the picture.
As uber-philanthropist Bill Gates has noted, nonprofits are able to take risks that companies and government can’t. After all, it’s easier for charitable organizations to experiment with a visionary donor’s money than forcing a government official or CEO to explain why a certain risk failed.
But we need to pay for all that good work. That’s why we need what I’m calling “The Great Tithe.” Currently, Americans donate about $218 billion a year to charity. That’s generous for sure, but it’s still just two percent of our annual incomes. If we increased that percentage to 10 percent, we could raise more than $1 trillion. That’s more than current federal spending on welfare, education, medical research and transportation combined.
I’m not naïve; there would be plenty to work out with “The Great Tithe.” How big would our tax deductions be? How would we vet the nonprofits? Would the system of 10 percent giving be mandatory or optional?
And I’m not saying non-profits are perfect; they have their management issues too. But I can tell you this for sure: The next great program in education, medicine or poverty relief is already percolating in the mind of some budding non-profit entrepreneur. Why wouldn’t we want to fund that?
Kevin Salwen and his daughter, Hannah, are co-authors of “The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back.”