Give Thanksing

The Granite State has had many superlatives to its credit from being “first in the nation” for the presidential primary to having the highest quality of life and lowest crime rate. But one of our many “firsts” is a bit of an albatross. Just about every year we are picked as one of the stingiest states in the union.

That pesky annual report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy is out once more and there we are at the bottom (or, looking at it positively, the top) of the list. Their analysis is based on tax returns and the percentage of income that is itemized as charitable gifts. It’s a harsh report overall that concludes that the richest Americans have been giving less while the poorest have been giving more.

Maybe that’s not really surprising, and it might explain (though not really excuse) the sad statistics for our state. After all, when you aren’t surrounded by the direst effects of poverty and urban decay that many larger states deal with, you feel less compelled to spend money to alleviate those conditions. We’re a well-off state and well-off people who really do live in “ivory towers” of a sort. We hear about poverty and homelessness but many only actually witness it through the windows of a moving car or a newspaper story.

Those who are closer to the edge of poverty (including, increasingly, many on the lower rungs of the middle class) are able to identify with the poor and thereby feel their pain in a way that prompts action and generosity.

To identify with a cause, you first have to share an experience. That’s why groups that deal with “the pain” on a daily basis, like the NH Food Bank, find novel ways to make their case, using art and humor to bring attention to their needs.

Defenders of New Hampshire’s honor (like myself) are quick to point out that what we lack in financial charity is at least in part made up by the strength of our social fabric, the eagerness we show to volunteer and get involved in community life. This is clearly exemplified in another organization that’s dear to my heart, Building on Hope. Every two years they organize an effort to rebuild and beautify the buildings and grounds of a community nonprofit — an effort that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, but even more in volunteer time, most of which is never reported to the IRS. They are kicking off their 2016 project now and looking for candidates.

So, sure, you could say that our social and financial health are indicators of a deeper wellness, something that’s hard to put a price tag on. But in spite of the examples above, that does sound a bit like rationalization.

And it’s something to think about this year as you celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s good to be thankful for what you have, but maybe this is the time to reassemble the halves of that wonderful holiday name and put “giving” first.

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