Philanthropist in Chief? We’re All For It

By on December 9, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The cascading bad news about our economy, with unemployment rising toward 7 percent, dramatic layoffs (half a million jobs in November), and an official declaration of recession, could have dire import for the nonprofit sector, including The HSUS. Like all charities, we rely upon the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporate supporters, and with less discretionary income available, there is cause for worry. One analyst, Paul Light, has said that as many as 100,000 charities will fold within several years, casualties of the financial meltdown, and the sector is bracing for a decline in giving.

Here is yet another burden for President-elect Barack Obama. Obama got his start in the nonprofit sector, as a community organizer. For the first time in American history, moreover, the interests of the sector received serious attention from both Obama and Sen. John McCain during the presidential campaign.

This week, we’re learning details about the vigorous program of countercyclical spending the incoming administration will roll out to drive the economy out of recession. In the nonprofit community, there’s a strong hope that Obama will lead a government effort to strengthen American philanthropy. I find the notion an exciting one. By encouraging direct service and civic participation, our nation’s charities help to make our democracy work better. 

Barack Obama with puppy mill survivor Baby, from A Rare Breed of Love

© Jana Kohl, "A Rare Breed of Love"
Could Obama, pictured here with puppy mill survivor Baby,
help to strengthen charitable giving?

All of us in the sector would like to see the president take steps to stimulate greater giving, whether through spurring economic growth or creating more incentives. Some have called for the creation of a Cabinet-level position, a White House Office for Civic Engagement, or even a National Institute of Philanthropy. Goals might include the promotion of effective giving and stronger collaboration between government and the private and nonprofit sectors, the showcasing of successful charitable initiatives, the recruitment of young people and the expansion of national service opportunities, and the mobilization of the sector around the incoming administration’s priorities, such as the elimination of poverty, the improvement of education, and the reduction of crime here and in other countries. Through good legislation, the U.S. Congress could increase the prospects for success in such endeavors. 

During the Great Depression, the charitable sector was quickly overwhelmed by the crisis, and the federal government stepped in to provide needed support. Something similar may happen this time around, too, but because the social priorities of the administration will undoubtedly focus on pressing human concerns, it’s difficult to see, at the moment, how animal protection organizations could directly benefit.

That’s our unique challenge, of course, but it’s the one to which we are accustomed. There’s no social safety net for animals. Together, the thousands of local, regional, and national groups have built that system of support for animals, and together, we have to maintain it—all the more so in hard times.

In light of this shared responsibility, I was encouraged by a late September survey of online donors which revealed that seven of ten adults queried plan to give the same amount online as they did during 2007. Twenty-four percent of the respondents explicitly stated that they planned to support animal welfare organizations. 

I hope that you’ll be one of them, and that you’ll continue to show your support for The HSUS and other groups as 2008 draws to a close. We’re not going to let up in our efforts to make this world a better one for animals, and we’ll do our best to make the funds we receive go further than ever in our pursuit of humane goals. We’ll consistently demonstrate the impact of what we’re able to accomplish through your generosity, and show you why that ongoing support is so important.

Companion Animals

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