President Clinton, noting that the Internet revolution is creating young millionaires almost daily, hosted a White House conference yesterday urging "a new generation of philanthropists" to lead the nation to higher levels of charitable giving, already a $175 billion enterprise annually.
The conference, featuring celebrities from the music, film and high-tech industries, was designed to put a younger, hipper face on philanthropy, which often is associated with hoary names such as Rockefeller and Mellon. The president and first lady used the occasion to urge all Americans--individually and through corporations--to give more money to charities, whether their wealth is from new technologies or old.
"I am glad that the sheer volume of charitable giving is going off the charts," Clinton told his audience in the East Room. But he noted that overall giving has held steady in recent years at about 2 percent of the gross domestic product, roughly the same as 30 years ago.
"I think as we've had this phenomenal increase in wealth in our country, I would feel even better if the percentage of our national income devoted to charitable giving had gone up just a little bit," Clinton said.
The conference comes as some politicians are calling on nonprofit groups to do more to help poor people, drug addicts and others in need. Presidential candidates George W. Bush, the Republican governor of Texas, and Vice President Gore have said "faith-based" institutions should replace some government agencies in providing such services. Religious institutions long have been the biggest beneficiaries of charitable donations, receiving about 44 percent of the $175 billion given last year, according to the White House.
The administration said it wants a tradition of philanthropy to take root in a new generation known for savvy entrepreneurs who make millions by starting Internet companies. Conference participants noted that some such privately held companies give stock to charities, which stand to receive huge benefits if the company goes public and its stock prices soar.
"Silicon Valley and the whole venture capital, high-tech community needs to be at the forefront of what we're doing because of the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks," Clinton said. "That's where the money is."
America Online Inc. Chairman Steve Case, who joined Clinton on a panel on "New Philanthropy in the New Millennium," described an AOL Web site, www.helping.org, that steers potential donors to 620,000 charities. "We can take all these tens of millions of people who are starting to change their lives because of the Internet and help them to change society because of the Internet as well," Case said.
Clinton also hosted a panel discussion meant "to teach the ethic of giving" to those coming of age in the high-tech era. Panelists included singer Justin Timberlake, 18, of the band 'NSync, who told the audience: "I got to be honest. This isn't your normal pop group's demographic." He said he recently set up a nonprofit foundation to promote music programs in schools, a pet project of Hillary Rodham Clinton's.
Other conference participants included Patty Stonesifer, president of the $18 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and actor Paul Newman, who gives away the profits from his brand-name salad dressings and other products.
The White House conference was broadcast live on some public access television channels and to more than 100 sites across the country where groups held their own philanthropy conferences.
Many public television stations will air the conference in coming weeks, organizers said.
With baby boomers poised to inherit $12 trillion from their parents, Clinton said, his administration is taking steps to encourage and facilitate charitable giving.
"We need to think about, in government, whether we can do more things to generate more constructive philanthropy," he said, adding that he will establish an interagency task force to strengthen the "philanthropic partnership" of government, nonprofit groups and individual citizens.