Farmer Support of Local Organizations, Causes, and Charities through Philanthropy

Article excerpt

As rural communities lose population, businesses close their doors, and financial resources become scarce, local leaders experience increasing difficulty providing necessary facilities and services to ensure an acceptable quality of life. A strategy for obtaining additional resources to meet local needs is through philanthropy or charitable giving of local residents. In farming communities, estate bequests have particular appeal because the legacy of many farmers is their land holdings. In 2004 the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll questioned farmers about their philanthropy with local community organizations, causes, and charities. Amounts and types of local contributions by farmers are examined controlling for theoretically relevant personal, social, and structural factors. Results indicate that amount given is related primarily to economic factors, whereas who the benefactors are and the nature of the contributions is more a function of degree of participation in community organizations and activities. Implications for community development are discussed.

Keywords: citizen participation; philanthropy; rural community development

Introduction

In many rural communities leaders are exploring the establishment of community foundations as a strategy for obtaining financial resources to help meet local needs and spur development. But community developers generally have not given much consideration to the factors that influence charitable giving to local organizations and causes. The nature and process of charitable giving sometimes arises in discussions of such topics as altruism, social capital, and volunteerism, but for the most part, community developers and other social scientists have ignored community charitable giving in their scholarship. Very little is known about charitable giving at the local community level or the role of community foundations as recipients of donations and supporters of local development (Lowe, 2004). Rural community leaders looking for help in establishing community foundations to assist community development efforts have few concrete directions or guidelines to draw upon. Even though cooperation, mutual assistance, and volunteerism are assumed to comprise the bedrock of rural culture, developers still lack an understanding of the factors that motivate people to give of their wealth for community betterment.

This paper is an initial effort to explore the patterns and motivations of farmers' charitable giving to local organizations and causes. Beginning with a discussion of relevant literature from several disciplines, especially the literature related to community foundations and theories of philanthropy, the paper draws upon these theories extracting elements that apply to community philanthropy. These elements are integrated with community development theory, resulting in a theoretical framework for community giving and a working hypothesis. The hypothesis is tested with data from 2004 and 2005 statewide surveys of Iowa farm operators.

Philanthropy, charity and altruism

Philanthropy and charity often are used interchangeably in everyday dialogue, but in the scholarly literature the two terms have distinct definitions with a common base in altruism. Like so many concepts in the social sciences scholars often fail to agree on the definition of altruism, but those that emphasize the motivational aspects of altruistic behavior largely agree that it "... (a) must benefit another person, (b) must be performed voluntarily, (c) must be performed intentionally, (d) the benefit must be the goal by itself, and (e) must be performed without expecting an external reward" (BarTal, 1985-1986, 5). In a review of the theory and research of altruism, Piliavin and Charng (1990) found that the data from the social sciences showed compatibility with a position that altruism is part of human nature. "People do have 'other regarding sentiments," thus do contribute to public goods from which they benefit little, they do sacrifice for their children and even for others to whom they are not related" (Piliavin & Charng 1990, 29). …