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Did COVID-19 teach us anything about philanthropy?

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There is no doubt that COVID-19 has taught us many lessons even as we continue to learn more about our vulnerabilities and strengths to the virus and other events like it. One lesson that the virus taught us is the need for philanthropy. It is quite encouraging to see Nigerians, big and small, in Nigeria and in the diaspora, come together to chip in with donations of various types, sizes and volumes, to make life at least bearable for those hit hardest by the virus, in terms of need.

It was a sight to behold, seeing mountains of bags of rice and other items being donated by Nigerians of different walks of life and location. While I applaud and express gratitude to those that gave, it is unfortunate, however, that it took the devastation of COVID-19 to awaken the philanthropic instincts in Nigerians.

Where have those instincts been when smart and clever Nigerians could not continue their education because they could not afford the tuition and other expenses that were required for their university education?

Where was the philanthropic instinct when your alma mater and other schools around you, went from a state-of-the-art school or edifice to a dilapidated structure, for lack of maintenance?

Where was the philanthropic instinct when the research grants in Nigerian universities ran dry and scientific and social research and discoveries could not be undertaken?

The list goes on and on.

A cue from America

One of the things that makes America what it is, in education, research and other areas of advancement is philanthropic giving by way of endowments. Most wealthy Americans like Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, the Rockefellers and a host of them have endowments in colleges and universities that enable those universities to grant scholarships to deserving and needy applicants as well as fund research and development. To them, generous giving and philanthropy is and has become a way of life rather than a thing that happens only in emergencies and pandemics.

Laws that encourage philanthropic giving

One thing that makes generous giving in America enticing and continuous is that their laws encourage and reward the giver. The US tax law, for example, allows taxpayers to get credits for charitable donations made to recognized charitable organizations (subject to some limitations). By that law, when you give, you are not only helping others, you are also helping yourself in terms of tax and financial management. It is an altruistic giving. In fact, IRC 170 of the US tax code allows individuals to deduct 60% of their adjusted gross income for charitable deductions but following COVID-19, the CARES Act allowed 100% deduction in 2020.

What this means is that if your income is $100,000, you can decide to give the entire money away to charity and you will not pay any taxes on your income. On top of that, if you give more than the required amount, the tax law allows you to carry over the excess charitable contribution for the next 5 years. Could there be a better way to incentivize people and organizations to give? Probably not.

Those are the type of laws Nigerian lawmakers should focus their attention on, not how much they should get as car allowances etc.

University Endowments

Almost every year, the news goes out about one Nigerian or the other living in the US who gets accepted in Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, etc. The question is, how many Nigerian parents in the US can pay for education in such Ivy League schools? Yet their children go through such schools successfully, but how? Through scholarships funded with endowments. Endowments funded with contributions from generous Americans.

According to available data, Harvard University had the largest endowment in 2020 with $37,096,474,000 (yes, $37 billion), followed by Yale with $27,216,639,000, then Stanford, $24,784,943,000. The list goes on and on here. In comparison, how much do Nigerian universities have in their endowments? Now you see why that smart kid in America, whose parents cannot afford to send to the university ends up being a medical doctor or someone of value to the society and the same smart guy in Nigeria end up on the streets.

It is time that Nigerian celebrities, the Davidos of Nigeria, the Obi Cubanas of Nigeria and so many others like them, stopped exhibiting their cars and mansions and started funding university endowments.

Formations of philanthropic organisation

It is time for philanthropy to become a way of life in Nigeria rather than a thing that happens during pandemics and emergencies. One way to do that is through the formation of foundations and other philanthropic organizations. Happily, foundations are springing up in Nigeria, like the Tonto Dike Foundation, the Cuppy Foundation and others.

We all can chip in

Generous giving is not always a thing of the pocket; it is rather a thing of the heart. We all can chip in with our dimes and pennies or Naira and Kobo. That is how St. Jude Hospital does it in the US and makes sure that every child with cancer gets treated free of charge. It takes a monthly donation of $19 from each donor for St Jude to do it. There are many Nigerians with ailments requiring medical attention they cannot afford, but we, other Nigerians, can become the St. Jude Hospital for such people by donating as little as N5 monthly contributions. Small though, it will still go a long way.

Conclusion

If there is anything we learned from COVID-19, let it be that we are in this (world and indeed, Nigeria) together. We have a duty to our society, we need to start asking the question, “how can I help,” more often. The virus may be over soon but the need to give is not going anywhere, so keep giving and start giving if you have not been doing so.

It is good to bury a loved one in style but it is much better to leave a legacy when you leave. That legacy could be people saying after you have gone, if not for you, they would have not earned their degree or become cancer-free.

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