Remarks at a White House Luncheon for the Presidential Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives

January 22, 1986

Well, it's been a pleasure to be here with you today and to have you here at the White House to discuss a fundamental goal of our administration: private sector initiatives, encouraging the American people to get involved in helping one another and providing service to their communities. And I want to begin by thanking each and every one of you for agreeing to serve on this newly constituted Presidential Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives. Your own volunteer spirit is an example of the good citizenship we want others to follow. And I'm proud that we're on the same team. This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue; we're promoting an aspect of the American character that is as fundamental to our way of life as our freedom to speak, assemble, and worship.

Back when I was younger -- some younger people think that I was along about the same time as Alexis de Tocqueville -- [laughter] -- and I lived in a small town on the Great Plains of the Midwest, the Nation's Capital seemed very far away. So, we couldn't wait for the Government to provide assistance to our friends and neighbors when they were in need. We knew it was up to us, and helping each other was the natural thing to do. It created a true sense of community. Now, I'm not suggesting that there's no role for government, but I think it behooves all of us to nurture the kind of community spirit that I just mentioned.

In the early days of this administration, we've been trying to do just that. In October of 1981 we set in motion a Presidential Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives to promote private sector leadership and encourage public-private partnerships that meet public needs and decrease reliance on government. It seems that during the 1970's, people began looking at government not as the tool of last resort but as the first and foremost solution to our problems. Paid government employees began to replace volunteers. Some people acted as if funding ever-expanding government programs with taxpayer dollars was an act of personal charity. Well, I've always thought charity is what people decide to do with their own time and money by themselves. Had the trend of more and more government financed by higher and higher taxes continued, it would have killed off one of our greatest national assets: the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor.

Our first 44-member task force, chaired by Bill Verity, a prominent businessman that we all know, went to work trying to reinvigorate the American spirit of voluntarism and community service. And for 14 months these top professionals used all their talents and skills to raise awareness and build local networks. A computerized data bank of projects was established, and people everywhere seemed to be on the move. And I was just telling some of my comrades here at the head table that we still have that computer bank. And for people in communities who have a problem and want to know a way to solve it, all they have to do is get in touch, and we can put them in touch with people that have already worked out some private sector way of meeting the problem.

For the first time, a White House Office in Private Sector Initiatives was created. And after the task force finished its work, a Presidential Advisory Council on PSI, headed by another top business leader, Bob Galvin, was set in motion. And now we see thousands of partnerships in education forming. And our aspiring young astronauts are hard at work studying their math and science. Through OPERATION: Care and Share, millions of pounds of food are reaching the needy. Private partnerships are forming to address the issues of child care, missing children, and crime prevention. Small businesses and the corporate world are pitching in, using their entrepreneurial ingenuity to revitalize our neighborhoods and create summer jobs for our young people. Thousands of youngsters are touching America as they help maintain our public lands.

We're not letting good works go unrewarded. Through the C Flag program, we've been recognizing outstanding community projects. Thousands of these flags are flying around the country symbolizing that great American spirit of we can and we care. I'm deeply grateful to all who are involved. It's been a truly noble endeavor, and I think those who gave their time, energy, and talent have every reason to be proud of what was accomplished -- and much has been accomplished.

We've witnessed an explosion of voluntarism in this country over these last 4 years. In 1984 total giving by citizens, corporations, and foundations in this country was a record-breaking $74\1/4\ billion. That's up a whopping 11.1 percent over 1983. It represents a 41 percent increase over the 1981 levels. Let me also add that with inflation remaining low, these figures are especially relevant. The overall 1985 figures are not compiled yet, but just yesterday I met with the leaders of the United Way and learned that 1985 was a banner year, with donations in that one program alone reaching $2\1/3\ billion. The years 1983 through 1985 represent the largest increase in contributions the United Way has experienced in 25 years, up 30.9 percent. And many people gave not only their money but their time, too. About 92 million people, 55 percent of the American adult population, volunteered time whose worth could be computed out, if you just took an average figure, at about worth $70 billion.

As an overall phenomenon, we're talking about the world's mighty force for good. On the individual level, both the giver and the receiver benefit when we help one another. Our communities, States, as well as country, are better and more decent places because of it. Even if we were to greatly expand government programs -- and I assure you we can't and won't -- we could not legislate or regulate the compassion, caring, and innovative use of resources that are built into our voluntary programs.

What are the types of private sector initiatives I'm talking about? Well, let's take a few examples of what some of you right here in this room have done. I know that the New York Stock Exchange, among many other laudible activities, has designed a program to work with New York State teachers in providing a better economics education for students. And I want to congratulate the chief executive officer and chairman of the exchange, John Phelan, for this. Thank you, John. I also want to thank him for agreeing to serve as Chairman of this Advisory Board. Another example of community service of which we can all be proud is that of the National Association of Broadcasters. NAB has been deeply involved in programs to counter drug and alcohol abuse. They use their medium to build the community in a wide variety of ways -- from voter education to producing public service announcements aimed at improving productivity. For all of this, and for agreeing to serve as Vice Chairman of this Advisory Board, I'd like to thank NAB president, Eddie Fritts. Thank you.

Now, I realize that all of you in this room are involved in this type of positive, community-based activity or you wouldn't be here. I just want you all to know that I appreciate what you've done and all the work that you will be doing on this Advisory Board. The ball is in our hands now, and we can't let it drop. We've got positive momentum on which we can build. Now, as you embark on your new mission with this Board, I hope I can count on each of you to use the full extent of your talents and resources to promote the long-term development of private sector initiatives. We must continue to do what we can to bolster phenomenal growth of these private sector efforts. And we must continue to draw attention to how much individuals and private organizations are able to accomplish.

I hope that history will look back on this time not just as a period of economic recovery but also as a time when a rebirth of the American spirit was translated into unprecedented good will and good deeds between all Americans. That goal is well within reach, and we must work to make it real. And I look forward to hearing of your achievements directly and through my Office of Private Sector Initiatives. Thank you for volunteering. Together we can do it.

Now, in a moment I'm going to go out that door, and I'm going to get a chance to do what I didn't have a chance to do at the beginning at the luncheon, and that is to greet each one of you individually down here in the Blue Room. But I want to thank you all, and God bless you all for what you're doing. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:12 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.