No Self-Made-Man is an Island

“Irked” is the best way to describe my reaction to the latest article, Most People Shouldn’t Be Giving To Charity, by Business Insider contributor and self-proclaimed, self-made millionaire, Steve Siebold.

Siebold implores people “to get rich first, get what you want, and then help others in any way you wish,” claiming that giving back is “wrong unless you can afford to do it.” He condescendingly asks Americans to sit down and let the 1% take care of the philanthropy while we focus our energies on trying to get rich.

Siebold brushes off the notion of supporting others as socialist poppycock, while he spouts a libertarian diatribe rooted in the idea of “every man for himself”.

But Siebold has it wrong, and here’s why:

The terrifying consequences of leaving nonprofits in the hands of the world’s Steve Siebolds

From this latest article, and a collection of others that include pretentious titles like What The Middle Class Doesn’t Understand About Rich People andHow to Break Into the Upper Class, we can gather a few clues into the values of Steve Siebold. I’m not saying the nonprofit world doesn’t need or want to accept money from millionaires like Siebold, but we should reject the notion that philanthropy should be left to the millionaires club.

Would the Steve Siebolds fund programs that support our massive homeless population? Would they support educational programs for minority youth in rural communities? Doubly doubtful. The problem with a person who gets rich selfishly is the selfishness doesn’t go away. He continues to live and give selfishly. With countless worthy causes in need of funding, the sector cannot afford to be at the mercy of the Steve Siebolds. His values don’t reflect mine, and his philanthropy would not either.

Most people can and should give

Siebold suggests it would be wrong to give if you can’t afford it. If, by this, he means that it would be wrong for non-millionaires to donate to, say, a nonprofit supporting the medical needs of low-income youth before buying that Ferrari or rounding off the luxury watch collection, then Seibold’s conception of wrongness is not only obviously false but morally reprehensible.

Perhaps he simply means that it would be wrong to give if doing so would bring about more harm than good. This, I think, is quite right. But the implication is that giving should not be left to the millionaires of the world. Rather, the vast majority of us can afford it. That instead of trying to get rich, we should be donating to worthy causes.

Giving is a privilege

Why should wealth be our collective ultimate goals? What Siebold fails to recognize is that for many, wealth is not the holy grail. Wealth is not what we strive for each day. Many of us strive to live in communities with equal access to health, education and social services, and we are proud to give whatever we can to get us there.

There is intrinsic value that comes with philanthropy. Giving is a way of voting with your dollars, making choices about the programs available to you and your fellow community members. Giving empowers people and helps them to feel connected to others. That is not harmful, and we all have the right to make the choice to be philanthropic.

Every gift matters… Really

Yes, we should expect millionaires and billionaires to step up and donate large sums to charitable endeavors. But it’s not enough. In fact, according to Charity Navigator, the wealthiest 10% of Americans make up just 25% of total charitable giving nationwide.

Whether you’re giving money, time, or in-kind goods, your contributions do make a tremendous difference to nonprofit organizations. “In 2009, despite the recession, Salvation Army bell ringers raised a record $139 million,” (Talk About Giving). Small gifts add up!

Don’t let Steve Siebold tell you how you should or shouldn’t support nonprofit organizations. The sector needs support from 100% of us.

“Giving isn’t a posture reserved for the rich or the powerful. It is the responsibility and privilege of every man, woman, and child to participate in the task of building more just and humane societies.” — Alfre Woodard

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