A Tax By a Different Name Smells Sweeter

By: Mr. Wilson on April 1, 2009
In her column today, Deena Winter initially calls "preposterous" the idea that Lincolnites might volunteer their time and donate goods to support the city through difficult financial times. It's not unreasonable of her to think such a thing. As she notes, Lincolnites are no fan of taxes. Why would we willingly subject ourselves to what amounts to a tax by another name? Simple. People are more generous in two situations: First, people tend to be more generous when they get something in return for whatever they give. That's why so many fundraisers give donors a gift in return for their donation. That Tootsie Roll the bell ringers give you in December? The chance to enter a raffle? That brick in the sidewalk? All are examples of donors receiving something tangible for their gift. Few people will write a $40 check to an organization. Raise the cost to $50 and throw in a fancy meal and you've got yourself a full house of eager donors. Second, people are more generous when they know exactly where the thing they give is headed. People don't like taxes not just because we are forced virtually at gunpoint to pay them. (Yes, at gunpoint. If you don't pay taxes for long enough, who shows up at your door? That's right, dudes with guns.) People also don't like taxes because it's so easy to think that their little contribution does nothing in the grand scheme of things. If I already think that my $100 isn't doing any good -- or worse, is being wasted -- then I will resent any increase because that's just more of my money that disappears into the abyss. On the other hand, if I know that my $100 bought that pair of gloves for that fire fighter which protected her hands in that fire, allowing her to help save that family ... it's easy to see how a person would feel pretty good about that. Let's put this all together and imagine a simple fundraiser for the City. Imagine if B&R Stores started a Feed the Firefighter campaign. Their goal: cover 100% of grocery costs for local firehouses for a year. To raise the cash, cashiers would ask each person at checkout, "Would you like to give a dollar to feed a firefighter?" Folks who donate would get to write their name on a paper cutout of a fire engine which would then be taped to a wall at the store. Donors would also get a sticker that says "I Fed a Firefighter Today" -- not unlike the classic "I Voted Today" stickers. I wouldn't be surprised if the goal were met in a couple weeks. If you expand that concept even just a little, I suspect you could see quick and impressive results. Similar programs are already reasonably successful. Consider the Adopt-a-Mile trash pick-up program, for example, and Lincoln Cares. One of the keys, in my opinion, is being sure to send the message that for maximum effect the efforts should be ongoing. We won't do ourselves much good if we only get ourselves fired up for a month. Lincolnites are willing to get behind local rally-the-community efforts. Take a look at Tour de Lincoln, or the aftermath of a typical Cindy Lange Kubick column. With the right approach, there's no reason we couldn't do our city a lot of good by taking a few things into our own hands.


See what your friends and neighbors have to say about this.

West A Dad
April 1, 2009 at 1:55PM

I’ll help take care of Coddington Park, show me the sign up sheet.

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