The Muslim Welfare Centre spent an extraordinary $120,000 this year funding the Arctic Food Bank.
That act of private charity must be one of, if not the, largest in the region.
Most community group funding here comes through government grants and programs. Grant and proposal writing has become an entire industry itself, with thousands of nonprofits and charities vying for pieces of the public purse.
However, there’s something more meaningful about individuals opting to fund a certain program with their own money than bureaucrats in government offices choosing which programs to fund with their tax collections.
The people who voluntarily donated to the Muslim Welfare Centre, knowing the money goes to programs like this, have parted with their money because it’s a cause they believe in.
It is slightly more hollow to receive a bounty that was forced out of other people’s hands.
This is not just semantics, because the incentives behind money circulation matter.
People are naturally generous, but to a logical point.
If the government assumes responsibility for a country’s generosity and taxes to the extent needed to attain that power, the incentive for individuals to give plummets.
First of all, they have less money to give. Second, they wonder why they should fund something that the government has said is its job.
Third, the causes the government supports are not necessarily the same causes the people who are paying for them would support.
Peter will naturally use different judgement spending Paul’s money than he would his own.
The Muslim Welfare Centre props up organizations like the Arctic Food Bank no doubt because the people who donated believe it is not just a good cause, but something that resonates with them personally and will extend their brand.
It is a mutual benefit: they feel good about themselves, and they get their name out there in a positive light. There’s no such thing as selfless acts: people give because it makes them feel good.
But the person who’s taxed for someone else to provide charity with that money has no choice in how the money is spent and all the brand payback goes to the government.
This can lead to a crowding out effect, which makes people less likely to be generous if they think the government is already assuming that role.
We can at once support the government’s ability to provide funding to underrepresented causes and be wary of the fine line it can cross with regard to incentives.
People’s charity does not exist in a vacuum, but is responsive to the ebbs and flows of their environment.
The Muslim Welfare Centre’s support is a fantastic example of private charity still alive and well. So are the town’s 100 People Who Care Inuvik group and donations businesses have made to the Children First Centre and youth athletics.
Groups like these deserve extra praise in an environment that doesn’t always push people to give.