07/12/10 — Givers and takers: Donors aren't enthused about paying for others' bad behavior

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Givers and takers: Donors aren't enthused about paying for others' bad behavior

Americans are a generous lot.

Offer them the chance to help someone else and they are more than ready to take out their checkbooks.

But they were more likely to do so in the olden days, when money was a little less of a concern and there weren't so many people worried about their own retirements, their own futures.

As household incomes have dropped and more and more people are facing the realities of raising children, paying for college and keeping their own bills paid, Americans are less likely to simply hand over a check.

Today, Americans are a little more jaded, a little more skeptical of anyone who has his or her hand out. They want to help those who need assistance -- but only those they know are using the money for legitimate purposes and only those who are only asking for help short-term.

It is not that they are more selfish or that generosity is now a second thought. Most people have figured out that they cannot continue funding other people's families forever, and that while they are willing to help someone get back on his or her feet, they are not willing to sign a blank check year after year. They want those who are struggling to show that they are working to overcome their circumstance, not simply waiting for someone else to pay the bills.

So in the coming year, organizations and charities are going to have a tougher time, and more of a burden to prove that the money they are collecting is really going toward solving the problems, not just sustaining those who are victims of those problems.

In an age when money is tight and a donation needs to mean something, many people are looking for individuals who have worked hard all their lives and who have run into a piece of bad luck -- a serious illness of a family member or a fire or other unforeseen circumstance. And it helps, too, if the person who needs help is local. All you have to do to prove that point is to look around at the most recent successful fundraising campaigns held recently in Wayne County -- all for community members who have given to others themselves and who have come across a piece of bad luck. There was not even a hesitation to help these neighbors in need.

But most people are tired of handing over funds to address the same issues -- teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, poverty in general, chronic drug users who do not care for their children and those who have never had a job and who never will because they have abandoned their education or sought a life of sloth and easy money.

Those who have worked hard, built lives and who take care of their families want to see others do the same -- with help at first, but later on their own.

If we could eliminate the funds that are used to reinforce bad behaviors and dependency, perhaps we could help more people who are trying to weather a bad stretch of road, before they lose their homes, their livelihoods or their children.

In the future, those who give will want to see a return on their investment, not just in the form of statistics, but in the stories that come when people are supported, but also empowered to do something to change their lives.

That's the only kind of charity we can afford right now -- the kind that breaks the cycle.

Published in Editorials on July 12, 2010 11:10 AM