The current state of philanthropy in America.
January 1, 1998
in this forum:
Are Americans now more concerned with humanitarian and social philanthropy than ever before? Does America's generosity derive from some national benevolence or is it representative of a failure by our government to provide a social safety net for the underprivileged? With respect to Mr. Soros' and Mr. Turner's philanthropic undertakings, do you believe that there is a danger with such large scale donations? With all the attention given to Soros and Turner, it seems to me that the "little man", the average American, has been grossly overlooked. Has not the average American also been giving more? What do you believe can explain the recent upturn in philanthropic donations? New wealth? New spirituality? Elaine Lee of San Francisco, CA, asks:
What do you believe can explain the recent upturn in philanthropic donations? New wealth? New spirituality?
The Independent Sector responds:It is too early to tell whether there has in fact been a recent upturn in philanthropic donations. Over the last several years, the percentage of income given has remained relatively constant at approximately 2% Gross Domestic Product.
In 1995, there was a small increase in the average percentage of income given by donor households. Contributing households gave 2.2% in 1995, a small increase from 2.1% in 1993. All indications show that this increase in the size of the gift from contribution households (from $880 in 1993 to $1,017 in 1995) occurred because of a general upturn in economic conditions. However, the percentage of households that gave actually declined from 73% in 1993 to 69% in 1995, demonstrating that a larger number of households did not fare as well economically. So, while there may be been some upturns in specific segments of the population, we have not yet seen a significant increase in overall giving in the past several years.
Kathleen D. McCarthy, Director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy, responds:
New wealth obviously has a lot to do with it. Bill Gates's business ventures have created an estimated 2,000 new millionaires alone. Similarly, more new foundations have been created in the past two decades than at any other time in American history. And there are indications that giving will continue to rise, particularly with the much-anticipated "$10 trillion transfer of wealth," as the baby boom generation begins to inherit the estates of their more frugal Depression era parents. Since, statistically, the boomers are just beginning to age into the period of their lives when they should begin to give more, predictions are that much of this wealth will find its way into nonprofit coffers. It will be particularly interesting to see how this plays out, since this generation played such a central role in the great social movements of the 1960s. Spirituality has undoubtedly been an important factor as well. Despite our much vaunted reverence for science and secularism, America is a deeply religious country. And religious practices are often a determining factor in the scope and nature of people's philanthropy. According to an Independent Sector poll, 76-80% of the church-goers who were interviewed reported making household contributions for philanthropic purposes, as opposed to 50-64% among non-church members. Moreover, those who regularly attended church gave more: 3.4% of household income, as opposed to 1.4% among those who attended sporadically; and 1.1% among those who did not attend religious services. The number of religious institutions also appears to be growing, and most of the major religious denominations that have taken root in this country — Protestantism, Catholicsm, Judaisim and Islam — stress the importance of giving and volunteering as part of an individual's religious duties.