Governments — at the local, state and the federal levels — are increasingly competing with charities for voluntary donations. Beyond their on-going appeals to philanthropic foundations, the rivalry has grown to include crowdfunding and other individual-donor focused campaigns. That’s a problem not just for nonprofits, but for all of us who depend on government to address common problems and shared needs.
Unlike charities, public program funding ought not depend on ephemeral individual and foundation interests. That approach moves government away from coherent efforts on public problems and toward addressing social concerns as fragmented matters subject to people’s passing fancy. It makes it profoundly more difficult for government – and charities – to adequately support and advance the broad-based and continuing efforts necessary to improve our social, political and economic institutions.
We all have a responsibility to promote the common good, and government is the principal mechanism through which we serve it. Let’s not substitute the arbitrary and sometimes passing nature of individual altruism for what is in fact a continuing shared obligation. We need to go beyond joyful tinkering at the margins, beyond joining friends for the light-heartedness of doing good in funding programs we like. Let’s not shirk the hard work of improving the responsiveness, performance and accountability of our government and the substantial sacrifice of providing it with the resources that all of us truly need.