SCRIPT: Giving in America: The Glitz vs. the Poor 12/05

'Tis the season of giving. And that means it's make or break time for charities. A time for glamorous fundraisers in glittering halls. A time when people with money turn out to be wined and dined and write checks. Turns out, people are giving more and more. So why are the poor getting a smaller percentage? We asked Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross to find out.

R. COURI HAY, PUBLICIST

In New York City, it's all around charities. Social life in New York revolves around giving. And so every single night there are five, six, maybe even ten parties during the busy season a night where you can go and give to a worthy cause.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS

Separating the rich, the powerful and the famous from their money has become a crucial part of what's known in New York and Hollywood as the charity game.

HOLLY PETERSON, "NEWSWEEK"

Brian, I would call this a game of keeping up, catching up, and sucking up. You have to be in the right crowd. You have to be seen as a generous person, and you always, always have to give money to your boss' favorite charity.

BRIAN ROSS

When it comes to charity in these circles, nothing but the best will do, creating a level of opulence that can seem incredibly out of place if the true goal is to help the needy.

R. COURI HAY

It's glamorous and the women look beautiful, and everyone's dressed up in beautiful gowns and jewels. But they're raising millions of dollars while they do it, and they're looking good. Well, wow. I mean, what could be better than that?

BRIAN ROSS

R. Couri Hay is a publicist who makes his living in the charity game. Trying, as he says, to marry luxury and philanthropy.

R. COURI HAY

It is not easy to raise a million dollars. And so it's got to be glamorous and exciting. Celebrities really help. Oh, boy.

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS

I'm very honored to be here tonight to support Witness and its critical work in Sierra Leone.

R. COURI HAY

We're still in celebrity culture. So, everybody wants a celebrity at the party.

JIM CARREY, ACTOR

I believe in charity. I just don't believe in talking about it.

R. COURI HAY

You know, you add a celebrity, you're adding excitement, and people pay money to be near a celebrity.

BRIAN ROSS

Americans are expected to give some $250 billion to charity this year. Much of it in these next few weeks before the end of the year when donations must be in to count for a tax deduction. So now the charity game is in full swing.

HOLLY PETERSON

It's a chance for these people to show off their wares, to show how much money they've made, to show how well they're doing, to show how beautiful they are, to show how thin they are and to show how chic they are.

BRIAN ROSS

"Newsweek" Contributing Editor Holly Peterson knows all about it firsthand. She's written about and is part of the upper crust of the New York social scene. A kind of Park Avenue whistleblower.

HOLLY PETERSON

I've played this game myself. I chair about four charities a year.

BRIAN ROSS

You chair four charities.

HOLLY PETERSON

Uh-huh.

BRIAN ROSS

And how do you get people to give to your charities?

HOLLY PETERSON

I have generous friends. The key is to get glamorous, important, rich and powerful people on your board.

BRIAN ROSS

And if you don't have them?

HOLLY PETERSON

If you don't have them, you're screwed.

BRIAN ROSS

This week alone, the charity game in New York included galas for scholarship funds, the blind, a variety of diseases, and a star-studded event to raise money for a museum program to teach children about classic movies and television shows. Director Ron Howard, once Opie on "The Andy Griffith Show," was the guest of honor. $25,000 a table to attend. Another grand night at the Waldorf Astoria. The kind of event that raises a lot of money, $800,000 this night, but leaves some people cold, very cold.

TRENT STAMP, CHARITY NAVIGATOR

Americans are giving more and more and more to charity. They're giving less and less and less to the poorest citizens in this company.

BRIAN ROSS

Trent Stamp runs a website called the Charity Navigator that tracks where America's charitable contributions go.

TRENT STAMP

There's no doubt that American donors have abandoned the poor in terms of their philanthropic decision making. These are not the types of charities that are endorsed by celebrities. These are not the types of charities that send you a tote bag when you make a gift.

BRIAN ROSS

Last year, contributions to charities working with the poor were down to eight percent of all money given. The third consecutive year of decline. Guests at some of the fanciest black-tie charity events in New York find themselves walking by the homeless, sleeping outside these church steps on Fifth Avenue.

TRENT STAMP

For the most part, the large donor, the wealthy donor, has turned away from these types of charities. Nobody wants to be seen at the local homeless shelter, but they would like to be seen at symphony hall.

BRIAN ROSS

That's been the experience of Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, a former New York City Social Services Commissioner. She now works with many of the city's smaller charities that deal directly with the poor and the homeless. Charity is no game here.

LILLIAM BARRIOS-PAOLI, FORMER NYC SOCIAL SERVICES COMMISSIONER

I don't have the kind of position that I can sell a $10,000 ticket. I just don't. And it's not going to happen.

BRIAN ROSS

You're not able to tap into the same resources that the museums and the opera and the ballet get.

LILLIAM BARRIOS-PAOLI

Very rarely. Very rarely. We have donors that give to us and also give to Lincoln Center, but they will give $25,000 to Lincoln Center or the Natural History Museum, and they will give us a thousand dollars.

BRIAN ROSS

All of which has helped to raise the question framed recently in the "New York Times" whether all giving to charities and non-profit organizations is equal. Some say it's not.

BEN STEIN, YALE LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE

The generosity of individuals is much more meaningful to a local soup kitchen than it is to Yale.

BRIAN ROSS

Take the case of Yale. Yale and its football and academic rival Harvard have a total of $35 billion in the bank. Yale graduate Ben Stein took a lot of flack from his fellow alumni when he suggested universities like Yale and Harvard were getting a disproportionate percentage of donor dollars.

BEN STEIN

Only a fool would think that a entity that has the power of a major investment bank in terms of speculation is as deserving as the local soup kitchen on a dollar for dollar basis.

BRIAN ROSS

Yet all charities are created equal in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. A donation to the museum featuring classic movies and television shows gets the same tax advantage as a donation to this soup kitchen in Harlem.

HOMELESS PERSON

The way I see New York City right now, you got rich on this side and you got the poor on this side. That's how I see New York.

LILLIAM BARRIOS-PAOLI

I think not all charities are equal, and not all giving is equal. And I think you have to make some distinctions. You know, the big universities get a lot of the money. The big cultural centers get a lot of the money. And again, I'm not saying that they shouldn't, but the reality is that, you know, we have, you know, we don't have access to the money, and we really need it.

R. COURI HAY

Well, the truth is if you're a small social service organization, you know, in one of the boroughs, you're probably not going to tap into the big glamorous charity whirl of New York City because they're already raising money for causes they already believe in and already deeply committed to.

TRENT STAMP

If you're working with citizens in this country who are not eating tonight, to me that's a much more worthwhile cause than people who would like to hear a symphony.

BRIAN ROSS

So what's your advice to the people who run soup kitchens and can't seem to raise that kind of money, can't attract celebrities and well-known politicians?

TRENT STAMP

I mean, the best advice at this point would be to hunker down, because it's going to be a cold winter. I think we're headed toward dark days for those citizens.

BRIAN ROSS

And this winter?

TRENT STAMP

I think it's going to be a very cold and hungry winter for our most vulnerable