The Anatomy of Donations

Making a donation is a multifaceted way to repair our society. At the same time, though, it’s a very personal, individual act. That’s a strength – and a risk, too.

Dona­ting is more than a simple tran­sac­tion. The act of making a dona­tion invol­ves consciously facing up to areas where our society is defi­ci­ent. It’s an act of soli­da­rity that, in a libe­ral under­stan­ding of our own actions, gives ever­yone the oppor­tu­nity to make an impact on society inde­pendently of state requi­re­ments and private-sector mecha­nisms. Accor­ding to the Zewo dona­tion report, 80 percent of house­holds in Switz­er­land donate at least occasionally.

Having an impact on the community

Dona­ti­ons come in many forms. They can be an indi­vi­dual act at home, respon­ding to a fund­rai­sing letter at the kitchen table or to a social trig­ger – some­thing that has not least come to promi­nence since the era of digi­tal GoFundMe campaigns and crowd­fun­ding. Then, you’ve got coll­ec­tions at church or the ‘Schog­gi­ta­ler’ choco­late coins which school­child­ren have been selling in support of a nonpro­fit orga­ni­sa­tion since 1946. 

Fund­rai­sing campaigns like these make us more aware of the oppor­tu­ni­ties that each and every one of us has to support chari­ta­ble ideas. Parti­ci­pa­tion in charity runs, such as the Lauf gegen Rassis­mus (Run Against Racism), is also popu­lar. Dona­ti­ons have a double impact in campaigns like these. Let’s say an uncle pays his niece a small amount for every kilo­metre run. This brings joy, provi­des moti­va­tion – and supports a good cause.

Dona­ting is power

The commu­nal nature of dona­ti­ons crea­tes moti­va­tion and pres­sure at the same time – and not only when the amounts invol­ved are on the smal­ler side. In 2010, 40 of the most afflu­ent people in the United States signed up for the Giving Pledge, an initia­tive orga­nised by Warren Buffett, Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates, and pled­ged to donate the bulk of their assets to alle­viate the grea­test problems facing mankind. As gene­rous as these actions are, they are also – and rightly – criti­cised. 
On the one hand, it is impos­si­ble to avoid asking whether the accu­mu­la­tion of this wealth is linked to problems such as global social inequa­lity. On the other hand, these funds can have a major impact on possi­ble solu­ti­ons The Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion has a budget of USD 8.6 billion for 2024 and, along with the US, UK and Germany, is one of the WHO’s most important donors. This allows foun­da­ti­ons to earmark dona­ti­ons to influence the direc­tion taken by inter­na­tio­nal orga­ni­sa­ti­ons – without regard for natio­nal, demo­cra­tic decis­ion-making processes. 

The Go Tax me initia­tive within German-spea­king count­ries sees wealthy indi­vi­du­als campaign for respon­si­bi­lity to be distri­bu­ted differ­ently, calling for higher taxa­tion of people with milli­ons of dollars of wealth. This is the complete oppo­site of dona­ting to chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, which are tax-exempt. Non-profit status is one of the prere­qui­si­tes for tax exemp­tion – and so the tax autho­ri­ties now rule on non-profit status. This tax exemp­tion, in turn, is of rele­vance for orga­ni­sa­ti­ons as it enables dona­ti­ons to be deduc­ted from tax, which can incen­ti­vise donors to make a dona­tion. The good feeling that comes from making a diffe­rence, howe­ver, is the more important driver by far. The dona­tion report, for instance, states that the key moti­va­tor in 2022 was the feeling of soli­da­rity: it is not a person’s own abun­dance that is the reason for giving; people with little to their name donate in just the same way. 

Soci­ally relevant

Dona­ti­ons are a rele­vant addi­tion to society. While they cannot replace public or private resour­ces, they do enable repairs to be made to the social system. They faci­li­tate impro­ve­ments which the state cannot or is not allo­wed to take on because it does not have the means or the mandate to do so, and which the economy can’t or won’t under­take because there is no busi­ness inte­rest behind them. That said, compa­nies, too, use corpo­rate giving as an oppor­tu­nity to assume social respon­si­bi­lity beyond their actual busi­ness area or busi­ness model. 

All of these dona­ti­ons can alle­viate profound social chal­lenges, such as poverty, but they can also faci­li­tate small-scale cultu­ral events that have no other way to obtain resour­ces in our society. In the end, making a dona­tion remains an indi­vi­dual act. That’s its strength. That’s what makes it so attrac­tive. Ever­yone can decide where they want to make an impact, and trans­pa­rency helps to make this visi­ble. Ulti­m­ately, this is in the inte­rest of society: for society, a strong aware­ness of dona­ti­ons can be a stable chan­nel of funding and some­thing that binds demo­cra­tic commu­ni­ties together.

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