by Frances Edstrom
We’ve watched this year as a smoldering class envy has been stoked in Washington and spread throughout the country. It is the 99% against the 1%, and we are supposed to be full of hatred for that 1%. Some go so far as to say that the rich 1% of the population has the lion’s share of the money because it has stolen that wealth from the rest of us. (That could be construed as true in a few instances, I suppose, like when we pay for a ticket to a really bad movie made by Hollywood billionaires, or to sports events in which our millionaire athletes play badly.)
But nowhere in this discussion of who has the wealth in this country has there been any acknowledgment of how much is done with that wealth to benefit the rest of us. Donations to nonprofit organizations directly from the wealthy enrich our lives in ways that would not be possible otherwise. Of course the rich are not the only ones who donate to charity and worthwhile nonprofit organizations, but they are able to make substantial donations that go a long way in supporting some of our most valuable and effective charities.
“But the government gives money to nonprofits, too!” you say. Yes, but nonprofits have very little control over how much money they get from the government. While a Winona nonprofit can nurture relationships with local donors, it has very little opportunity to do so with government agencies, and is a recipient of government wealth — grants — in an often haphazard and capricious manner. And think of how much perfectly awful stuff is awash in government cash!
When I think of the assets and institutions that make Winona a great place to live, most of them exist due to private donations and volunteer efforts. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum is an example, as is the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the Winona County Historical Society, and other cultural organizations. Those organizations are not the only ones: our churches, environmental and sports organizations, Winona Volunteer Services, the Winona Community Foundation, the schools’ foundations, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Home and Community Options, Winona Health, Miller Mentoring — the list goes on and on.
And while these organizations rely, in order to function, on donations of money and time from all of us, no matter our financial situation, without substantial donations from the top 1% of Winonans, they would not be of the same quality and scope, or as able to help those in the area who are in need, especially in this economy.
So the next time you are tempted to entertain the notion that the “rich” are greedy thieves, think about what so many people here do with their wealth to benefit you and our city and area. Run through the names associated with industry and wealth locally, and then connect the dots to so many priceless assets in our community which they either created or to which they have given generously. Does anyone dream that this money would be spent as wisely or benefit us as greatly, grasped by Washington or St. Paul and doled out from there?
It’s the season of giving, and we should thank those who give generously of what they have, from the least to the most. Giving, unlike taxes, is not mandatory. And giving to nonprofits, unlike paying taxes, produces a more direct and often more beneficial effect on our collective quality of life, and our efforts to improve, beautify, and enrich our community, as well as help the unfortunate to better lives.
Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!