Nonprofit redux

I enjoyed the recent article on nonprofits [“Sharing the Wealth,” April 9] and also thought Mr. Evan’s follow-up letter [“Looking the Gift Horse in the Mouth,” April 16] made some good points. There is middle ground between the two, and some ground not covered by either. It is true that charities tend to be inefficient in both equitable distribution of services and in addressing related problems across a wide spectrum. This is not a criticism. They often do a great deal with very little in their specific mission.

I disagree with Mr. Evans about the role of democracy. A large part of the Reagan Revolution was the intentional decentralization of health, cultural, educational and environmental concerns. Charities may receive public funds, but the voters have already excused themselves from the process. Some organizations took up the slack. Others are still wondering what hit them. In a competitive environment, stronger groups succeed. This should not be confused as a judgment of their mission or the needs they serve.

Nonprofits are facing new funding pressures. Volunteers are getting older, and precious few of them have included charity in their estate plan. Younger donors often focus less on local organizations. Wages, after inflation, have been dropping steadily for many years. The estate-tax exemption is in a state of political flux. While it is a moving target, many families have a hard time making commitments.

The solution lies in individual responsibility. Individuals make commitments. Committed individuals build communities. Communities can do more than the sum of the parts. As a citizen, you can support the causes you love with time and maybe a little more money than you have given in the past. If you want their good work to last, leave them something when you are gone. Talk to your friends about doing the same. Above all, have faith that your support makes a difference.

— Skip Helms

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