For the second time in 24 hours, the Nonprofiteer is moved to respond to philanthropy activist, scholar and author Mark Rosenman; only this time her response is, "Absolutely!" He’s right on target with his plaint about the Bush Administration’s disgraceful plan to horn in on scarce philanthropic dollars to fund things the government has been neglecting on its watch.
Let’s say this as simply as possible: charity cannot replace government; contributions cannot replace taxation. If we’re serious about educating people, providing them with parks, making sure they get health care, we’re going to have to pay taxes to support systems to do all those things. And a government that pretends otherwise–that pretends taxes can be cut indefinitely without its having any impact on government services–is fundamentally dishonest.
Oh. Well. This is the Bush Administration we’re talking about.
Government fundraising is objectionable because it concentrates political and financial power in a single location. It’s not clear whether that means government is taking advantage of the private sector or the other way around, but either way it means another independent voice has been silenced. Ask my consulting colleague whose work with what can only be described as a captive nonprofit came to an end as soon as she made a report that displeased the members of its Board who represented the Mayor’s office. It’s not just that the city thought itself entitled to beg alongside agencies that don’t share its taxing authority–it believed itself entitled to be first in the begging line, and no putative nonprofit structure (where non-city staff members get to have an opinion) was going to get in its way.
Even if the politicos on nonprofit Boards act in good faith, having the government muscle into the "independent" sector inevitably narrows the range of activities that occur in the overall society. If all the charitable money goes to national parks, what will be left to support the groups keeping alive the memory of Roger Sessions, or performing puppet Macbeth, or providing hand-made quilts to cancer patients? We might debate whether all those things are social goods–but that debate is what the nonprofit sector is for. Sure, nonprofits are groups that should be governed by representatives of the community–but not the same representatives of the community who are our elected officials.
Yesterday, Rosenman’s fusion of government and nonprofit troubled me. Today, it seems to me, he has the distinction just right.