With the nation mired in high unemployment and amidst the ongoing foreclosure crisis, there is escalating daily need all across the U.S. – for food, shelter, clothing, and fuel assistance.  Yet, how best to respond to this need is no simple matter.  A fascinating article in today’s New York Times identifies a conundrum: although charitable giving in 2010 rose slightly over 2009, donations to nonprofits that address basic needs fell 6.6 percent.

We would be mistaken to see these numbers as a sign that we have turned a cold shoulder at a time when growing numbers of people could use our help.  The Times article subsequently featured donors who have deliberately decided not to provide stopgap relief because they want instead to fund lasting change.

Shelters and soup kitchens do, of course, need our support more than ever during this time of rising need.  But, we must also not lose sight of the importance of thinking long-term and seeing charity as a way of investing in opportunity.  Let’s not forget our ultimate goal here; it’s not to give fish but to teach more people how to fish.