Giving in America is out of whack.
That’s my personal assessment based in part on a series of investigative reports by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The most eye-popping conclusions from the publication’s analysis of itemized tax returns was this: While the amount of money given to non-profits has risen steadily over the last 15 years, the total number of Americans contributing has steadily declined.
The rise in the amount given is great. In 2016, for instance, Americans gave a record $390 billion. But only 24 percent of Americans made charitable gifts in 2015, down from 31 percent in 2005.
Nonprofits should be concerned, the magazine says, that a smaller and smaller portion of the citizenry is giving. In 2015, for instance, 75 percent of donations came from people earning at least $200,000 a year, up from 57 percent in 2000. Stacy Palmer, the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, says that puts many small to mid-size nonprofits at risk, because those organizations tend to depend more on givers with middle-class incomes. Wealthier donors are more likely to give to larger charities with strong brands, she said.
There’s plenty of speculation as to why this trend is occurring, and understanding the why certainly is important – especially if you work for a nonprofit that counts on contributions to fund your work.
Set aside the why questions for a second, however, and personalize this issue.
Are you a generous giver? Do you help worthy organizations remain sustainable, both with your financial contributions and with your time and talents?
I’m a firm believer that giving isn’t a joy that should be limited to the wealthy. It’s a joy that should be experienced regardless of our socio-economic status, age, or employment situation. If you have something, you can give something. And if you give something with a cheerful heart, you’ll experience the joy of helping others.
So, here’s my challenge: Make 2018 the Year of Giving. When The Chronicle of Philanthropy conducts this research again in a few years, make sure you’ve done your part to impact the trends so that it shows more money is being given and more people are sharing in the joy of giving it. And if you’re already giving, evaluate the why and the how much and the who-to, then adjust to make your giving more strategic and impactful.
Here are few quick tips to consider as you go through the process:
Do some research.
Some organizations have big budgets and big brands but much of what’s given to them ends up covering administrative costs, not actually helping people. Check out the organizations to see what they do, how they do it, and how well they are managed. There are websites that provide resources for this, like Guidestar, the Foundation Center, or the National Council of Nonprofits. Keep in mind that there is more than one way to measure ROI. In some cases, for instance, the depth of the impact might outweigh the number of people who are being impacted.
Connect to your passions.
Look for organizations that address issues that matter most to you and your family. I felt a burden several years ago, for instance, to help inner city kids find hope for their future, which is why I got involved with Colorado Uplift and its national sister organization Elevate U.S.A.
Give with a cheerful heart.
Giving out of obligation and pressure typically creates a root of bitterness. If you give to organizations that connect to your passions and that do effective work, you should experience joy in giving. The only stress or heart-break we should ever feel when giving should come from that reality that we’re not giving more.
Get personally involved.
The world makes it easy to be an impersonal giver. We can write a check if we’re old-fashioned, or we can provide the right data online if we want to go high tech. Either way, we never have to go with the money into the places where it’s used. Buck that trend. Get up. Get out. Get involved. I travel extensively for business and pleasure, but one of my favorite trips each year is when we take students from Colorado Uplift and go build houses in Mexico. But you don’t have to leave the country. Many nonprofits need volunteers to provide hands-on help or administrative advice through board positions. Be those hands in the year of giving. It will increase your passion and your joy.
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