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Motivations for Philanthropy

December 06, 1997

Mark Dowie's "Charity for Profit" (Opinion, Nov. 23) certainly highlights what appears to be a segment of philanthropy motivated by self-interest. Although motivation is indeed a worthy inquiry, in this case of "charity networking" I have two concerns: 1) At least these people of wealth give, while many give nothing, and 2) it's unfortunate that this type of giving tends to avoid the small, less visible, grass-roots charities struggling to survive.

As a fund-raiser for nonprofit organizations, my main concern is that this article may reinforce a negative image of donors when in fact most philanthropists are value-driven, with the highest of charitable motivations, and are excellent role models. I urge people to read an inspiring article I give to board members, by a major philanthropist named George N. Boone, titled "Why I Give: Confessions of a Committed Philanthropist," in the Spring 1994 issue of Advancing Philanthropy.

Boone's enthusiasm, sincerity, compassion and passion for giving are exemplified by his statement, "Our philanthropic involvement has given us new energy and an enlarged sense of the meaning of our lives."

HENRY P. BORENSTEIN

Director of Development

ERAS Center

Culver City

* Dowie's article connecting philanthropy with business and social success was not only a powerful commentary on an estimable ideal falling victim to late-century narcissism and power-mongering. It also helped illuminate the dilemma facing many unsung nonprofit organizations struggling to make it through another year. Supporters and volunteers of organizations such as he described ("storefront neighborhood services for the poor and disenfranchised") witness with mixed feelings the narcissistic, hidden-motive giving described by Dowie.

A typical donation to such a nonprofit organization is measured in the tens or hundreds of dollars, rather than the high-profile million-dollar donations made to those "shining, hilltop museums." Yet the spirit of philanthropy may often be more truly alive where the carpeting has some coffee stains, and the walls remain unmarbled.

WILLIAM H. NAUMANN

Los Angeles

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