Josh Bolinger: Is “Philanthropy” the New “Green?”
What is green? Does it even mean anything anymore?
It used to be that “green” was a term for systems and products that were environmentally responsible. Looking for green labels was a way to try to direct your consumerism in ways that would have a minimal impact on the planet.
The other day I saw a package of bottled water in the store, with green bottle caps, and a big green leaf on the label. Looking more closely, I saw that they had made the bottle cap slightly smaller, so it used a little less plastic. So, of course, it’s “green.”
I see a lot of “philanthropic” organizations the same way. Many organizations are used as a place to shelter wealth from taxes, while the people that created these “foundations” live in houses owned by the foundation, fly around the world in airplanes owned by the foundation, give all of their relatives cushy jobs in the foundation, and generally live it up and have themselves a great life, all under the guise of “philanthropy.”
A few years ago, in Austin, I was driving up the freeway, and three white BWM sedans went flying past me in traffic, doing easily 90 MPH, just tearing their way up the road. They had huge decals all over them, identifying them as the property of a very prominent breast cancer research non-profit. And I thought to myself, there’s about $150,000 worth of automobiles, purchased with donor money, being drag-raced through traffic by people who clearly weren’t very worried about their auto insurance rates.
So, is philanthropy the new green? Are non-profits just places to hide money from the IRS, so everyone can run around and have a great time and pretend to be helping the world?
I think that is a question we all have to ask ourselves. Especially before we give money to an organization that my be just fiddling with the bottle caps.