Remarks on the Observance of National Philanthropy Day

 

November 14, 1986

 

Thank you very much. I have just read a clipping this morning from the United Press that shows how the private sector is spreading and things of this kind in philanthropy; that the First Lady of the Soviet Union has been named to the board of directors of a private, and privately financed, group in the Soviet Union. But I appreciate this opportunity to be with you today in recognition of one of America's greatest national treasures: the spirit of philanthropy that is so evident among our people.

 

When I was a lad growing up in the Midwest in Dixon, Illinois, we took this to be Americanism. And each and every one of us knew what kind of town we had and what kind of country we had. And it was all up to us. And although we were not as well off as many in town, my mother was always involved in projects for the less fortunate. She could always find somebody that was worse off than we were. I can still remember her doing a little baking of pies and cakes, and then finding out with quite some disappointment that they were for the sick lady down the street. [Laughter]

 

Just like every other kid in our town, I was a beneficiary of this spirit of community. I did a lot of talking about this out on the campaign. Part of it for me meant being a member of the YMCA Boys Band; I was the drum major. And during the recent election there'd be some high school bands at the political rallies, and I would tell some of these young people the story about what happened to me in that band. We were invited to go to a smaller town nearby on Memorial Day and to march in the parade. And we found out that we were at the head of the parade. The only thing in front of us was the parade marshal on a big white horse. And we started off down the street; and I'm with that baton, which was bigger than I was. And suddenly, he rode back down the parade line to make sure that everything was coming along all right. And I'm going down the street, leading the band and the music began to sound a little faint. [Laughter] And I sneaked a glance back. He had caught up with the front of the parade just in time to turn the band down an intersection, and I was walking up the street all by myself. [Laughter] I cut across backyards and so forth and scrambled to get in front of the band about another block away.

 

Well, over the last decade, I think the American people didn't like where they were being led. Philanthropy and personal involvement were giving way to Federal programs and bureaucratic solutions. I remember as a Governor, one of the nearby States had a most successful -- in its leading city -- program for preventing dropouts in high school. And then the Government came along with a program, and its first task was it just simply did away with that very successful private program in that nearby city.

 

Right from the start, I think one of the major goals of our administration has been to reinvigorate the American spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. We made encouraging private sector initiatives part of our agenda at the White House. And wherever I speak, I try to bolster local campaigns and give a well-earned pat on the back to some great Americans. And of the accomplishments of this administration, one of which I am most proud is the success that we've had in this area. Over these last 6 years we've witnessed an outpouring of charitable giving, voluntarism, and community spirit that was beyond our wildest expectations.

 

The figures are in for the period from 1980 through 1985. Total charitable giving in that period increased by 82 percent. The figures for last year, 1985, which are the latest statistics, show giving was at an all-time high, almost $80 billion, exceeding the 1984 record high by almost $6 billion. And during a time of low inflation, these are figures that indicate tangible change for the better going on in our society. Furthermore, people are donating their time. More than 89 million Americans volunteered their time and effort and talent in 1985. Other countries who've been paying attention to the job creation and economic expansion going on in the United States have begun to realize the importance of the figures that we've just been discussing.

 

And I'm very pleased that 10 days from now this subject will be discussed at an international conference in Paris, France, which my Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives is hosting. They, from abroad, brought it up. They want to find out what it is and how we do it. Paris is a fitting place for the meeting because it was a young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville who first noted this laudable part of the American character when he toured our country back in the 1830's. And now, I know what some of you are thinking. I didn't point this out to de Tocqueville. [Laughter] He recorded this all on his own. [Laughter] But clearly, it's something that Americans have always been proud about, and this conference will give us a chance to share our experience with the rest of the world.

 

Tomorrow marks National Philanthropy Day. For the first time in our nation's history, a day has been specifically designated to pay tribute to this fine American tradition. Philanthropy, as you know, is defined as an affection for mankind. Well, I think this benevolence flows from human freedom. It's when people are helping one another, not because they're taxed or coerced into it, but because they want to, that concern for one's fellow man becomes part of a nation's soul. And, also, from freedom flows a desire for peace.

 

I was trying to capture that last night when I addressed the Nation about some of the issues surrounding our dealings with the Government of Iran. Our relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran have been almost nonexistent for these last 7 years. And during this time there's been turmoil in the Middle East and an incredibly destructive war between Iran and Iraq, a tragedy of monumental proportions. All the speculation in the media notwithstanding, our dealings with Iranian officials have been aimed at bridging the rivers of animosity and hostility that separate our countries and at using our influence to bring a just peace to the region. That the Iranians have used their influence to help free American hostages in Lebanon has been a bonus that has come with the opening of these channels of communication, an encouraging first step and a show of good faith on the part of the Iranian officials. Now that the veil of secrecy has been lifted, the unfounded rumors laid to rest, I think most Americans will approve of our efforts to better relations between our countries and rejoice that it has resulted in the freeing of some of our fellow citizens who had been hostages.

 

All that has been accomplished can be laid to courageous diplomacy. We have, and will continue, to pursue every possible option to remove the causes of terrorism. In short, we will talk when talking is productive, and we'll be firm when firmness is required. But when terrorism does occur, we will act decisively against those who are responsible. There has not been, and will not be, any ransom for hostages. Let there be no doubt the United States does not pay tribute to terrorists. So, with that point made, I want to thank all of you for being here today and for all that you've done to make this a better country and a better world. I know that Ann Ascher of my Private Sector Initiatives Board of Advisors is ready to carry on this discussion, so I'll do what the little girl in her letter to me said after she told me all the things I should do after I was elected President, and then added a P.S. and says: Now, get over to the Oval Office and go to work. [Laughter]

 

Thank you all, and God bless you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 10:50 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.