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Tax reform and modern giving: part three - Taxes are rad (but are they enough?)

Introduction: giving is no longer a privilege. We're on the verge of the largest tax reform in twenty-seven years. Regardless of what you may think of the bill motoring its way to the president's desk, these sweeping reforms aim to accomplish much. But what if the changes aren't enough? Perhaps we will never be able to address our society's real needs in a tax overhaul. So the responsibility falls to us, to enact real change.

This month we're talking with three local experts about why corporate and individual giving has become not only a responsibility, but the only viable business model for those corporations wishing to flourish now and in the future.

For our first installment Susan Stoltenberg, the Executive Director of Portland’s YWCA, got real about some of the stigma plaguing those in need and the misconceptions about not only the have-nots, but the have-plenty's. Last week we heard from Lester Thompson, Fully’s CFO about the perceived barriers to charitable giving and why it can be difficult for a business to understand the long-term benefits to charitable giving. Now, for our final installment, let's check in with A'Quila Ettien, Fully's Social Responsibility Manager, and...

Part three: Taxes are rad (but are they enough?)

Corporate Giving: The Long Game

I love paying taxes. I’m not even joking. I love it almost as much as I love voting. Sure, I don’t always agree with everything the government decides to do with my tax dollars. I wish we’d invest more in public education, public works, infrastructure. Certainly I wish taxes were levied in a more equitable fashion: yes the rich—and I’m including my middle class self in that bucket—should absolutely pay a higher percentage of our income than the poor and the struggling. Duh. But here’s what it comes down to for me: I want to live in a healthy community, and taxes are literally the easiest way for me to contribute.

What makes a community healthy?

You’ve heard the saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Whether you’re talking about a family or the planet, a community is only as healthy as its poorest members. A community’s strength can be be measured by how it treats those who, for one reason or another, have a harder time getting by. If the weaknesses revealed by our recent recession have highlighted anything, it's that we have work to do.

It should be obvious, but apparently it has to be said: public education benefits everyone, not just those with kids in school. Paved roads benefit everyone, not just people who commute. A (good) police force benefits everyone, not just those who get their bikes stolen. So yes, I love paying taxes. And if I can do more, that’s when I get excited. The idea of “success” is usually framed by personal achievement and prosperity. Comfort. But I don’t feel successful until I’m comfortable enough to start contributing back to the community. I envision a future where businesses measure success the same way: they’re not truly successful until they’re giving back. And neither is a country.

Can we really make a difference?

Countless studies, and governor Sam Brownback’s recent “real-live experiment” on the people of Kansas, have demonstrated that trickle down economics is a myth. Yet some politicians continue to pretend that it works, claiming to serve the middle class, while serving only themselves and their wealthy contributors. And pretty much just pretending the lower class don’t exist.

And don’t get me started on healthcare! But let’s stay on topic.

So, in the face of these sort of systemic hurdles, can one person really make a difference? This question is a little murky. It’s is sort of like asking, “does my vote matter?” And the answer to both of those questions is “Yes! Absolutely, yes. For the love of mercy, always vote.”

Ahem. Anyway...

As individuals, we may feel like donating $10, or an hour of our time to a charity or nonprofit can hardly make a dent in the issues they’re tackling. And on the surface, that may be true. One individual’s time or donation is unlikely to make or break an effort, just like one single vote is unlikely to tip the balance. But that’s the sort of thinking that lets us all abdicate responsibility, and excuse our own lack of involvement. As with so many things, it’s about our cumulated efforts. And we each have to take a little bit of responsibility.

You may not have time to spare, but maybe you can donate $10 a month to a food bank. Or maybe you can’t spare the money, but you have one afternoon a month to sort books at the local library.*

And some people genuinely can’t do either. Some people even need help from the services I’m suggesting we support. And that is obviously nothing to be ashamed of. But each of us should consider carefully whether or not we are actually one of those people. I used to be, but I’m not anymore. Now I have the opportunity to make a difference for others.

The next level: business

There is power in spending. If you’re fortunate enough to afford the decision, you can help to redefine what it means to be a “successful business,” by choosing to spend your money with companies whose values and practices you want to support. If you own or influence a business, you can go even further.

I feel pretty confident saying that a business shouldn’t reasonably be considered successful unless

  1. It’s not spending more money than it’s bringing in. 
  2. It pays employees a living wage (which means being able to afford local housing, transportation, a healthy diet, health care, saving, and the occasional unexpected setback).

If you can’t meet those basic qualifiers, then your business is not successful. But once you do, you can start getting creative about giving back.

Businesses have so much power to influence their communities, local and global. Think about the power of a business’s sourcing decisions. If a restaurant uses local, organic ingredients, it’s contributing to an economy that values and sustains conscientious farming practices. If a clothing manufacturer only sources fabric from fair wage countries, they’re shaping a world that values human rights.

And that’s just the upstream decisions. Like your afternoon at the library, a business partnership or donation can have real impact for an organization working for positive change in our communities. And, though one small business might not be able to change the world all by itself, any more than one person, if we each take a little bit of responsibility, together we can make waves. Or, at least, mitigate some of the inadequacies of our broken economic paradigm.

A'Quila Ettien is Fully's Social Responsibility Manager








*Bonus! Does your company match charitable donations? Double your pleasure and make your dollar holler.