An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Being here in Uganda inevitably gets me thinking about charity.
I've often entered into debates about the efficacy of government charity verses private non-profit organizations. I have, and do continue, to argue that an NGO is a far more efficacious and righteous arbiter of the use of charitable funds than the federal government, but in the end I usually find that people remain skeptical, believing that there are just some (many?) charitable needs that are so "big" that only the US Government can manage the job. Sure in some cases perhaps...for instance World Vision does not have at its disposal a Nimitz class Aircraft Carrier with a fleet of helicopters with exceptionally well trained pilots capable of delivering relief to remote villages that were overwhelmed by a tsunami, but I really think that these large scale and logistically complex needs are rare and that the vast majority of charitable needs can be readily, eaven more easily, handled through private endeavors. Except for one problem, and herein lies the crux of the matter and where I must concede the point that with regard to one task the government is far superior: the obtaining of money.
You see, World Vision cannot of its own will take money from your paycheck. Amnesty International cannot coerce your employer by force of law to pay massive amounts of dollars for the priviledge of hiring you. Indeed, the St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund cannot threaten you with jail time if you do not sponsor a child for every $100 you spend at Walmart OR Macy's. Heifer International cannot make you buy a flock of chickens for a village everytime you buy a bottle of Scotch at their sole monopoly of liquor stores in your state. Argos cannot, virtually on a whim, decide who makes enough money to contribute more and who can escape such forced donations.
So, yes, with threat of imprisonment - an authority that ultimately ends at the barrel of a rifle, the government is a very effective charity of the unwilling. I've met people who've felt blessed to give to any of the organizations who lack the legal ability to employ imprisonment or violence above, but I've yet to meet anyone who was overjoyed about their virtuous and noble fiscal deeds of April 16th.
Charity at gunpoint...as someone who runs a non-profit, I do think some government involvement is a good thing. On the other hand, as someone who runs a "small" non-profit in eastern Washington, we certainly don't expect any handouts from the city, county, state or feds (nor do we get much). Unfortunately, most of the money available for "arts" non-profits, which is something I can speak to, gets sucked up by the big, brand name organizations or stays in the big metro areas like Puget Sound. Small arts organizations in mostly rural counties get peanuts at best.
What's just a fact of life is the fact that we have to compete against the big organizations, and they just have more staff. My total full-time staff is "two." And yet we compete for grant monies with non-profits that have 20, 30 or more staff just involved in development efforts. I'm not afraid to hustle, but it is a bit like playing a football game with only 4 guys on your team. By the time I put on concerts, update the web site, take carry of cranky ticketholders, placate local donors, and so on, there's just not any time left. Unfortunately, non-profits also compete for giving dollars not just with other local non-profits, but all the big, brand name national and international non-profits, as well. Easier for someone to give $25 to help prevent malaria half way around the world, than $25 to help renovate a rundown school in a school district that is 50% Hispanic and 100% poor. That worthy desire to "help" is placated, and the needs close to home never get noticed. As someone who has donated over the years to help out in Asia and Haiti, I've had a change of heart recently. Certainly nothing wrong with any kind of personal giving (unless you're sponsoring international terrorism, or the KKK and then I'd have a problem with it), but now in addition to trying to buy American, and trying to eat locally produced food, and use local musicians and vendors, I'm now making sure that my giving goes to local and regional organizations. Maybe doesn't have the same cachet as Haiti, but there's plenty of need just right around the corner.
Mike...your post gave me pause to consider another facet.
I'm a big fan of competition because it is an absolutely FANTASTIC way to develop a superior product. Government has NO competition, whereas NGO's can literally compete with one another and while we may be tempted to consider this a bad thing it actually is not. If *I* as a doner get to choose who I give money to (contrast with taxes) then these NGO's need to compete and show me that they are doing the most good for my dollar.
Additionally, I am ALL ABOUT local. That is also a part of the competition factor, which you duly noted.