The power of giving

With only days to go (June 2005) until the end of another financial year, many Australians will be considering how to minimise their tax.  This time of the year is made harder when it seems that the very rich pay less tax, proportionately, than the rest of us.  That makes throwing a few hard-earned dollars in the direction of an ostrich farm far more tempting than it ought to be.

But a much more sensible investment, with huge social as well as financial benefits, is to give generously to recognised charities. Every donation over two dollars can be claimed as a tax benefit.  There is a vast array of charities from which to choose.  And you can have the satisfaction that none of the money will be spent on war, detention centres, ministerial study tours or renovations to Parliament House.

Just over one-third of taxpayers earning less than $1million currently declares charitable donations. More may give regularly through their religious institutions or give cash without requesting a receipt.  Of those who do donate and declare it, the average donation is around $258 – about 0.26% of average taxable income. The very rich do better here. Significantly more of them donate (64%) and they give a higher proportion of earnings (1.4%).  But considering the needs of our world, none of this is remotely enough.

There are many psychological reasons why it is worth giving. It challenges our selfishness. It reminds us how much we have. It also pushes us to recognise our interdependence with others. And to see how our own safety depends on our willingness to rectify global injustice. But the social reasons are more pressing still.

Over the next 25 years or so the world’s population is predicted to grow by 2.5 billion. Only 50 million of those people will be born in the developed world with privileges we take for granted.  The enormity of statistics like those can feel overwhelming.  I can understand why many people would rather think about almost anything else than the need they represent.  Or why they would readily persuade themselves that what they could do is so little it’s not worth bothering about. Apart from exceptions like the tsunami appeal, there may also be a defensive cynicism about how much of the money goes to the people in need.

My own way of dealing with those kinds of reservations about giving is twofold.  On the one hand, I know that giving benefits the donor at least as much as it does the recipient.  More practically still, I have chosen a couple of agencies for the bulk of my overseas giving and give them my trust along with my money. When my own children were young, we began to sponsor children through World Vision. Each child’s sponsorship costs $39 per month. I do have reservations about the way children are selected and used to raise funds (especially now that you can actually choose children from the World Vision website); nevertheless, after many years of involvement I am confident that families and communities genuinely benefit. I am also confident that for our own Australian children, the reality of global injustice becomes much more vivid when it is attached to a face and a name and the chance to make a difference.

My other trusted charity is the International Women’s Development Agency.  This Melbourne-based group is the only one in Australia exclusively focused on women’s safety, health and economic development.  And if you should doubt the need for this focus, you might consider a few even more shocking facts. In the 1970s there was a widely loved slogan “”Women hold up half the sky””.  In 2005, women may well hold up half the sky but in most of the world they own less than 2% of the land. They represent two-thirds of the world’s illiterate. Violence against women causes more premature death and injury than malaria and traffic accidents combined. And women represent 70% of the people living in absolute poverty on less than US$1 per day .

Give while you can.

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