The Role of Charity

As I’ve written about public virtues the last few months, a common theme strikes me: charity.

Often charity is simply defined as giving money or goods to a good cause or a needy person. Such charitable giving is necessary and welcome. There will always be people who have great physical needs, and reaching out to those people with temporal aid is an act of charity that should be embraced and encouraged. Perhaps you give to an annual fund drive, perhaps you gather up household goods to donate, perhaps you take food to those who have little.

There are people who have much wealth who become great philanthropists, sharing their wealth to advance important or noble causes. These people set up foundations that attract other like-minded donors and their pooled money can be used to address very large needs or tackle really big problems. Think of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation setting their sights on improving world health and enhancing education.

So many foundations have billions to put into worthy projects, and we have many, many worthy projects in San Bernardino County. Unfortunately, our region fares poorly in competing for those foundation dollars. One of the key points I learned from the County’s recent Vision process—www.sbcounty.gov/vision - was this: on average, California counties received $119 per year per resident. Our neighbor, Riverside County, gets only $50 per year per resident. We in San Bernardino County, only see $3 per year per resident.

Imagine the changes we could make in our schools, our neighborhoods, with our health and environment and arts, and so many other things, if we could simply get to Riverside’s figure! Now, imagine more than doubling that to the statewide average.

We have work to do to accomplish this, and by we, I do not mean the government. Certainly, government officials and departments have a role in this, but really, the business sector, private institutions, non-profit organizations and concerned citizens must step up. Together, we can increase our capacity, build our cooperation and leverage resources to attract more foundation dollars to our region. That will fix more problems than government ever can.

And while we’re at it, let’s seek to increase the other kind of charity: you know, the part about treating each other well, about truly loving other people. If we can, each of us, live the Golden Rule a bit better, imagine how much better our neighborhoods and the world would be. Sometimes when time is short, traffic is heavy and nerves are frayed, we neglect the small kindnesses that would make someone else’s day. Maybe that person we are nicer to will then be inspired to make a small donation that will help some foundation make a larger contribution that will help hundreds of more people.

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