The Case for Philanthropy

As a rule, I generally don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m a bit anti-winter, and it is drudgery to try and motivate myself to try anything new when it’s dark and snowy outside. Generally my burst of ambition (and consequently, goal-setting) comes in April or May when I start to unthaw.

I did set one resolution this year, however: I want to give more and give throughout the year, not just during the holidays. For the past two holiday seasons my husband and I have made a point to give a little more, and yet I feel still feel we’re not giving enough. While 2009 was a rough year for nearly everyone, we have employment, a place to live, heat, food, clothing and family. So many people do not have even those basics – and large economic recessions like that of the last two years only continue to add to that number.

Yet our giving as a whole tends to decrease during the times when those around it need it most.

The first of the 2009 giving news came out this week. To no one’s surprise, giving among America’s wealthiest citizens was down in 2009. Collectively, the wealthiest individuals and families gave $2.7 billion to charity last year, a decline of more than 65% from 2008’s levels.

2009 numbers for the public as a whole won’t be out until June, but the Urban Institute reports in their “High Impact Philanthropy” report: “According to Giving USA, charitable giving dropped by 5.7 percent between 2007 and 2008, after adjusting for inflation. Meanwhile, the Johns Hopkins Listening Post reports that three in four nonprofits maintained or increased the number of people served.”

It is doubtful that 2009’s numbers will even reach those of 2008 – and yet the need for giving has increased. A case can be made that there was less money to give, to be sure. At the same time, a case can be made that maybe some of us were too desperate to hang on to relative comforts to share what we did have.

It is easy to sit in our warm, comfortable homes with our plentiful food and forget about those who are wondering if they’ll survive the bitter cold weather this week in the Midwest or how many meals they might have to skip tomorrow – or when the next big financial blow will topple the house of cards. Then there are those who do not have any of that to begin with.

It’s easy to think, “I cannot be a philanthropist – I am not wealthy.” It’s not so easy to remember that if you have shelter, heat and food on the table you are better off than the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants. In fact, if you had $2,200 in total assets to your name in 2000 you would have had more than 50% of the world’s population. If you had $61,000 in total assets, you would have been in the richest 10% of the world’s population, according to a 2006 World Institute of Development Economics study.

Philanthropy is about more than giving large sums of money. [Philanthropy is] altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons. (Dictionary.com)

Lest you think you cannot make a difference, consider this: In 2008, Individual Americans gave $229 billion to charity. Of that, only 3.5% (approximately $8 billion) came from the wealthiest individuals and families in America. The rest primarily came from the rest of us – the “regular guys.”

It’s not too hard to realize that most of us have it pretty good. With that, I invite you to join me in my resolution to be a philanthropist in 2010 – to recognize what we do have and generously share the excess.

-Sara Brueck Nichols

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2 Responses to “The Case for Philanthropy”

  1. Gabe O'Neill says:

    Hi Sara,

    If anyone who reads this post doesn’t believe what it says, believe it. I am the founder of Kids Are Heroes, an organization that recognizes kids under 18 who get themselves involved in philanthropy at an early age. These kids are the leaders of tomorrow and most of them do not have deep pockets. As a matter of fact, one lives in the poorest county in New Yoork and his mother told me that the life of giving is a “way to beat the statistics” and from where I sit this boy definitely has.

    These kids also give all year long and guess what else? It develops their leadership skills and boosts their confidence.

    Sorry Sara I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent but it is encouraging to read other posts about this. Yes people with money can help with their dollars, but people without it can help with their ingenuity. Cheers.

  2. admin says:

    Gabe,

    I absolutely agree. Ingenuity, time and small donations add up to make a HUGE difference. Thank you for sharing Kids Are Heroes!

    -Sara

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