Full Of Sound And Fury, Signifying Nothing

Much has been written throughout the blogosphere about last weekend’s New York Times article by Stephanie Strom on the merits of certain charitable deductions. Frankly, I’m surprised the piece garnered that much attention as it seems more to do with the typical class-warfare nonsense associated with national elections than anything having to do with the inherent value of charitable giving…

The only part of the article I found thought provoking and worth further examination is the idea of the inequity of the current U.S. tax code which allows individuals in higher tax brackets to deduct a larger percentage of their charitable gift. Unfortunately, that part of the article was quickly glossed over in favor of character profiles of some of the U.S. largest philanthropists.

Reading about how the super-rich believe one form of philanthropic giving is better than another is just about as personally enriching as watching an episode of the latest reality television program. People will almost certainly argue about the merits of one form of philanthropic giving over another but in the end, the only forms of useless philanthropic giving are those which take advantage of nonprofits in a premeditated fashion for their own personal gain; such as donating a gift-in-kind with an obvious over-inflated value.

Perhaps the best rebuttal to some of the more hysterical class-warfare rhetoric quoted in Strom’s piece can be found at Peter Dobrin’s blog ArtsWatch, where he takes California Congressman Xavier Becerra to task for his extremist caricature of opera patrons (what, does Becerra thing think all opera patrons look like Mr. Monoloply?). If nothing else, Congressman Becerra is living proof that the electorate gravitates toward the lowest common denominator that is the most effective at dispersing five second sound bytes.

If there are any other redeeming values from this article, it is that every orchestra manager should be aware of the individual philosophies of their donors: don’t slap an egalitarian’s name on the side of a building and don’t expect Rockefeller conservatives to be satisfied with nothing more than a hand written thank you note. Treat everyone like individuals, appreciate their personal perspectives, and sharpen your own ability to read an individual quickly and accurately.

Don’t forget, subscribers to the Adaptistration Weekly Email Summary newsletter will get a sneak peak at the 2007 Orchestra Websites Review Top 10 this Saturday so don’t wait – sign up today.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “Full Of Sound And Fury, Signifying Nothing”

  1. I was telling a friend about the abuses animals suffered at slaughter houses. She said, angrily, “How can you worry about animals when there are so many suffering children!”

    No matter how important a cause is to you, there is always somebody else with a cause that is more important. So, thanks be that we don’t have to hold national referenda to determine which causes we will donate to and in which order. Thanks be that governments do not have the veto power on such matters.

    The idea behind tax deductions for “charitable giving” eludes me. People ask me for donations and say, “don’t forget, it’s tax deductible.” But it still costs me. I still give more than I get. To me, this indicates that, tax deduction or not, people would give to causes they believe in.

    One of the causes people most believe in is religion. So they make tax deductible contributions to religions, which also benefit from not having to pay taxes on those donations. Thus, all of us taxpayers subsidize religions that we do not believe in and that may, in fact, be praying for our destruction because we do not believe.

    OK, so the system makes no sense and ought to be adjusted or — preferably — done away with. In the meantime, we’re stuck with it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to support what I believe in (including orchestras) and grit my teeth when I see some guy, on a TV broadcast made possible by my tax payments, tell me that liberals are responsible for the downfall of civilization.

    Paul A. Alter

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