July 5, 2017

Wise Giving Wednesday: Philanthropic Freedom

As we return from the July 4th holiday weekend of celebrations of USA’s birthday, I am reminded not only of the freedoms all of us cherish but also of the wide diversity and liberty experienced by charitable organizations. The recognition of the unique inclination of Americans to create various associations and organizations was recognized about 185 years ago during a nine-month visit by a French civil servant, Alexis de Tocquevelle, who later published a book about this experience, Democracy in America which states that, “In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded.” 

I suspect that even de Tocqueville would be astonished that in 2016 there were 1,237,094 organizations tax-exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (Source: 2016 IRS Data Book.)  And that total does not include all of the 350,000 houses of worship that are not required to apply for this tax-exempt status. No other country comes close to this volume of organizations.  But in fairness, that statistic also reflects the broad definition of charity as described in section 501(c)(3) and that fact that the vast majority of these organizations are very small. Only about 350,000 of the 501(c)(3) groups file either the IRS Form 990 or IRS Form 990-EZ. Charities (except houses of worship) with revenue $50,000 or more must complete one of these 990 forms. 

With this philanthropic freedom also comes the recognition of responsibility. In addition to sharing the same tax-exempt status, charities also share a recognition of the importance of transparency and trust. In part, the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability seek to help charities identify the minimum threshold behaviors (addressing governance, results reporting, finances and appeals) that donors expect them to follow.    


As part of our Building Trust Video series, we are pleased to provide a video that features Kevin Washington, President and CEO of the YMCA of the USA (a BBB Accredited Charity), the national office that assists local YMCAs in delivering and strengthening programs that engage people of all ages in improving their health and well-being through initiatives that include youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. 


We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit Give.org or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include:

Finally, remember to let us know by going to https://www.give.org/ask-us-about-a-charity1/ if you are interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.   

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO
BBB Wise Giving Alliance