If you haven't seen it, read this excellent column by Eduardo Porter, "Charity's Role in America, and its Limits," in today's New York Times. He argues that, while philanthropy in the US is strong, it is not the solution to various social problems. Here's one sample:
In fact, a small portion of philanthropic efforts are aimed at helping those who most need it. A study by Rob Reich, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, concluded that only a small share of charity redistributes income from the wealthy to the poor. A big chunk of the $40 billion donated last year to educational nonprofits went for new buildings and new programs at someone’s alma mater. Donations to schools in affluent school zones tend to help their own children, not those on the other side of the tracks. 

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