Charities and Opinion and Economic Analysis and Philanthropy

HICKS: President chooses wisely with recent donation

April 3, 2010

A good friend of mine, Gene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, has just unleashed a blinding flash of the obvious that has eluded the rest of us who think about tax policy.

His idea is simple: Why not treat charitable deductions the same way we treat most retirement savings–extend the deadline until April 15? That way, taxpayers can assess what they owe the government and immediately alter their deductions. While this might modestly reduce tax collections, it’d likely be a huge windfall for charities. Of course, this will have to wait until next year, but it certainly seems like an easy policy for a House Majority Leader, be it Hoyer or Pence.

In the interim, if you are looking for a good place to donate money, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than following President Obama’s lead in his recent donation of $1.4 million in Nobel Prize money.

Obama donated his award money to educational and military charities. Among the recipients, the American Indian College Fund, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund need no introduction to their good works, nor does the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Together, these groups received $575,000.

Others, including the Central Asia Institute and Africare, work abroad in the name of us Americans. The Central Asia Institute has supported social entrepreneur Greg Mortenson, who has done more to educate the poorest Afghanis and Pakistanis than any government. For full disclosure, I have known of and respected Africare since living briefly in western Africa as a boy. It ranks among the most efficient aid groups, focusing on both direct aid and education.

Two lesser-known groups benefiting from the president’s gift, the College Summit and the Posse Foundation, focus on at-risk children. Both work to help kids finish high school and set their sights on a college degree. Their emphasis on making kids college-ready is a recipe for success and each was rewarded by the president with $125,000.

The Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, founded by retired Air Force General and former Mississippi State University President Robert “Doc” Foglesong, was likewise recognized. This group focuses on character development among primarily West Virginia high school students, preparing them for college. I’m particularly tender toward this group as so many of its graduates attend Appalachian colleges, where I received my college degrees.

Far and away the best group on the president’s list is Fisher House, which provides housing for families of wounded and disabled veterans. No group in the past half century or more has had a deeper impact on the lives of American servicemen and -women than this one. This column and this columnist are insufficient in space and talent to render it adequate praise.

The president saved the largest gift for the Fisher House. His wise choice was affirmed when we note that the Fisher House had the grace and humility to list each of the other awardees on its Web site. This is what is best about U.S. charitable giving–it results in charitable actions.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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