A great bit of public radio.
My sister and I went out for a drive along the sunny East Bay ridge that is the topological essence of what I call home. The flowers were sparse but still everywhere and bright, and I was very happy not to be having a white Christmas.
And there was public radio, just like old times when we used to drive up and down that ridge several times a day, sometimes. First 'Another Lousy Day'
, about two pairs of diaries found in a Chicago thrift store.
Then a half hour of segments about Charity: Detroit
gives more per capita than other people, an interview
with Amanda Gebhardt, the new 26-yeard old director of a family foundation created by her aunt's will, a profile
of a Bay Area fundraiser, and of the founder
of a charity-watchdog group.
This made me think of Bowling Alone
, a book I've left in New York. I was surprised by the sunny tone of the NPR pieces. Friends have told me that the non-profit sector is an increasingly depressing area to work in, where more time has to be spent raising less money to help now needier people. Another book I bought several years ago, Civil Society
, opens with a reminiscence by the author, Brian O'Connell:
"I hadn't realized that there was a sprawling and deeply layered web of voluntary associations and institutions, that religions did more than preach their gospels, that people are often ahead of their leaders, and that democracy really rests on the underpinnings of citizen participation and influence."
Economic indicators like consumer confidence, job growth, unemployment, etc., are all easily bandied about. Indicators like absolute amount of charitable donation seem easily skewed by anomolies, like tycoons setting up business schools and gallery wings. (See Slate's biggest donor list from last year
.) In general it seems like the nonprofit sector isn't reported upon often enough, and that most people (myself included) don't have much of a grasp on the role it plays in keeping our social engine going. This is particularly unfair because, as I've learned this last fall in Journalism school, the nonprofit sector--with its advocacy groups, research institutions, and street-credibility--is often a journalist's best friend.