[Outlook]Season of giving

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[Outlook]Season of giving

The Salvation Army’s red kettles decorate the streets and subway stations of downtown Seoul, and benefactors are making donations to their favorite charities. All this makes us feel that the Christmas season is here.
At this time of the year, the media starts taking an interest in donations, and at times, they raise donations themselves. It should be appreciated that they want to help the poor when it is cold.
But when I see people making donations at this time of the year, I can’t help but feel that something is missing.
It is encouraging that the culture of donation is becoming firmly established. Companies have become interested in contributing to society. Volunteer work and donations are increasing these days.
But the increase in quantity does not necessarily mean there is an increase in quality as well.
The problem with donations in Korea is thatit is mostly companies, rather than individuals, making donations. And companies halfheartedly use the donations as quasi taxes in most cases. They also donate money mostly during the Christmas season, making their social outreach a once-a-year event.
The recipients of donations express discomfort, saying that it is not only during the Christmas season they they have hard times.
Companies confess that it is burdensome when society casts expectant looks at them during the Christmas season or when disasters occur. Companies have come to regard making donations as acts taken to save face or to avoid criticism.
There is some truth to the argument that companies are more interested in promoting themselves than making true contributions to society when they donate to support local charities.
It is more desirable for individuals to donate money, however small the amount, than for companies to donate a huge amount of money.
To donate money regularly and voluntarily is also much more desirable than to donate money reluctantly at the end of a year, as if paying taxes. In this sense, the culture of donations is still sterile.
In Korea, mostly old ladies who have sold gimbap, rice rolls, or sewed clothesfor their entire their lives donate money to charities, reflecting this reality.
The end of this year is no exception. Old ladies keep donating their money, shaming the rest of us. Old ladies who have done a lifetime of hard labor should be receiving help instead of giving their money to others. But our society leaves the duty of sharing to these senior members.
Let’s think about what should be done to cultivate a healthy culture of donations.
First, leaders in our society should give donations to set a good example, and an atmosphere to celebrate such deeds should be created.
A powerful force that sustains American society is the culture of donations. Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller donated astronomical fortunes to charities.
Their spirit of giving has been passed down to the present, to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, for instance.
Meanwhile, in Korea, companies make donations, but it is rare that businessmen or entrepreneurs follow suit.
Some even say that companies donate money only to be sanctioned when they have done something wrong.
The second step that needs to be taken to create a healthy donation culture is for families and schools to teach children about donations. As the saying goes, “Charity begins at home.” It is time for us to teach our children to do volunteer work and share what they have with others.
Children who see their parents do good deeds naturally do the same when they grow up. In schools and workplaces, teaching about donations and volunteer work should take place so such acts are integrated into people’s daily lives.
Third, institutions and systems should be reformed. In particular, tax incentives for those who make donations should be increased.
The government increased income deductions for individual donations, but the deduction is far less than in advanced countries. Tax incentives for companies also need to be increased.
Lastly , nonprofit organizations, the recipients of donations, need to become more transparent and trustworthy when distributing and managing the money they receive. They must also become more competent in running their organizations.
Donations are the best way to resolve social polarization, a deep-rooted problem in our society.
Through these efforts, I hope that there will be many rainmakers who create rain over our dried land, making the spirit of sharing overflow.

*The writer is the dean of the College of Business at Hanyang University and the director of research at the Beautiful Foundation. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ye Jong-suk
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