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A Foundation for Phelps County Based in Rolla, the Phelps County Community Foundation is the CFO’s 55th regional affiliate. Learn More

Giving Tuesday a reminder that philanthropy can be — and should be — open to everyone

Okay, enough is enough. I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want to be “that guy.” I mean, I do now have a smartphone (Do you know these things have cameras?). I have at least read about “Game of Thrones,” and am surviving “dual-factor authentication.” I also try to keep an open mind, but not so open that all my brains spill out. But coming to work recently, I heard a story on NPR that there was a new cheating scandal … this time in the game of cornhole. Stop it. This on the heels of bass fishing and virtual chess fraud. The radio announcer noted that some professional cornhole players make upwards of $250,000 annually. That explains a lot.

Seems like we’ve devolved into a world where everything is now monetized. In college, athletes can make millions on “name-image-likeness” contracts for football before ever taking a snap. Social media influencers are making millions for creating their own view of reality, and helping us escape ours. I’ve more than once heard the term “paid volunteers.” Wait, what? I believe there is value to most everything, but not necessarily measured in $$.

G.K. Chesterton long ago captured the essence of giving. It is so much more than a quid pro quo: “If I were a poet writing an Utopia, if I were a magician waving a wand, if I were a God making a Planet, I would deliberately make it a world of give and take, rather than a world of sharing. I do not wish Jones and Brown to share the same cigar box; I do not want it as an ideal, I do not want it as a very remote ideal; I do not want it at all. I want Jones by one mystical and godlike act to give a cigar to Brown, and Brown by another mystical and godlike act to give a cigar to Jones.”

I’m afraid some of this magical thinking has slipped into philanthropy, as well. Some donors want something in return, too, and that is why charitable giving has come under scrutiny recently. Sometimes we create hierarchies — you jump through these hoops and we might give you a dollar, or that you better not pay your people, or take risks, or Heaven forbid have much of an overhead if you want me to grant your wish. Yes, we funders do expect accountability, but giving should be that “mystical and godlike act” that measures not by $$, but by how unselfishly we can create a better world.

Another critique is that it has become a playground for the wealthy, and excludes those who have yet to be monetized properly. Last year, for the first time since such records have been kept, we dropped below 50% of households giving in America. In 2000, that figure was 61%. Certainly, I admire the philanthropic efforts of the Warren Buffetts and MacKenzie Scotts of the world, but they may not reflect the same values as many other Americans.

Right in the middle of the upcoming holiday season comes one of my favorite days. We have the madness of Black Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday, then the triumvirate is completed with Cyber Monday. All that is “monetizing” our intent … getting something for our dollars. Then comes “Giving Tuesday,” which reminds of the “mystical and godlike” acts that this season is really about. Enjoy it.

We at the CFO truly believe that charitable giving can and should be for everyone. If done in the right spirit, it enriches the giver and the receiver.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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