Politics & Policy

Holiday (Thanks)Giving

A mini-sermon.

Americans in general and conservatives in particular have much to be thankful for this Christmas season. Over the years this has often been the case for we have been a fortunate people. And we have been a generous people as well. Our charity has not been a matter of “giving back” to the “community,” as is sometimes said, but rather is an extension and expansion of our regular service to our country and our God, carried out through our daily lives of family, work, and savings. In a free society virtuous lives often lead to material surplus that can be deployed voluntarily on behalf of societal improvement. Americans having been doing so from our earliest days.

What sorts of special expansive giving might we wish to undertake this holiday season? Let me suggest some ways.

Christmas is a traditional time to give to our less fortunate neighbors and friends, often through gifts to churches, service clubs, and faith-based relief missions. This is a familiar activity about which no advice is needed except to say skip the various united appeals and give directly to the charities of your choice. This makes for more cost effective giving and encourages personal involvement in your chosen causes.

A second priority this year should be some special attention to our military, serving abroad in a long, nasty war, on behalf of national security and the advancement of liberty, and especially to those comrades now returned home wounded and facing hard days of recovery and rehabilitation. A grateful and generous remembrance seems in order here. Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal suggests we check out “America Supports You” at. www.defenselink.mil for a partial listing of local initiatives. News reports are full of stories about what appears to be an amazing, and much deserved, outpouring of support for our troops through thousands of projects, many of them local and wholly volunteer in nature. Noemie Emery makes more suggestions for military-related giving here.

We probably all gave during the last year to politicians and political groups who we continue to hope will work to protect and expand the institutions of freedom here at home. The politicians will be coming again with hat in hand pleading depleted coffers after the successes of this November. Perhaps under the circumstances they are deserving of some consideration as well.

But political giving, at best, is more like plugging the hole in the dike than truly extending the sphere of liberty. There is a larger work in need of accomplishment. The course of the last political campaign, and numerous recent articles and studies, have shown that in the academy and the mainstream media, and among the guardians and purveyors of high culture, the friends of liberty are few and far between. We have captured the institutions of national government, for the time being, but we have far to go in expanding our capabilities to influence the larger world of ideas upon which ultimately the preservation of liberty depends. Fortunately, because of years of past effort, we are blessed with many available institutions towards which we can direct resources on behalf of this larger, important, long range project to influence the climate of opinion on behalf of liberty. Yet these groups are supported by only a relatively few donors compared to the long list of donors to political campaigns. Let us resolve together to do more in this area than ever before.

Find a public-policy think tank, a research institute, a magazine of conservative opinion (you’re at a preeminent one right now) and discourse, or a student oriented foundation that interests you. Get involved with its activities. Find out what areas of its work need your support. Give special consideration to making a gift for general support that will help pay fixed costs such as staff salaries, office maintenance, and supplies, the most difficult, yet the most fundamental, areas for which to raise money. Even small gifts for general support produce exceptional value for your charity. Townhall.com, a website supported by the Heritage Foundation, is a good place to start your search for an organization suitable to your interests. The State Policy Network, will help you extend your search to state and local organizations. Invest in scholarly research, academic conferences, student internships, and scholarships, and published writing informed by a conservative perspective. Sock away any extra money before the year ends into a donors advised fund at a conservative-oriented community foundation such as DonorsTrust) and decide later how to grant the funds as opportunities present themselves.

If you are interested in encouraging the growth of a conservative presence at your alma mater give your support to individual conservative faculty and students or to conservative campus organization. Make all your gifts, earmarked for work at your campus, through 501(c)3 conservative organizations with a national reputation so they will be eligible for tax deductions. By passing your gifts through an independent tax-exempt organization you can maintain influence over the ultimate beneficiary of your largesse. There are many good ways to help the college of your choice without letting the college administration gain direct control over your gifts. With few exceptions our colleges have proven themselves to be unreliable and largely ungrateful recipients of the generous (sometimes lavish) support conservatives have provided to the institutions of higher education.

In the free society, the philanthropist investing in the institutions of liberty is one of the best examples of private virtue in action. These institutions are some of the best creations of a free society. The philanthropic act is potentially one of creative liberty at work. The possibilities are great for social improvement, for “reformation without tarrying,” that is for taking bold and direct action on your best instincts and understandings. It is an engagement that is one of the privileges of being free. It is another blessing for which to give thanks at the close of this momentous year.

William C. Dennis is a writer and consultant living in McLean, Virginia.

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