A new report from The Chronicle of Philanthropy shows that fewer Americans are giving to charitable causes and that nonprofits are increasingly relying on the wealthy for support. According to the study, “only 24 percent of taxpayers reported on their tax returns that they made a charitable gift in 2015.” A decade earlier that figure routinely reached 30 or 31 percent.” At the same time, “three-quarters of all itemized donations in 2015 were from taxpayers who earned $100,000 or more; those earning $200,000 or more accounted for more than half.”
The study offers several explanations including that middle-class America has less discretionary income today than in recent decades. It also suggests that millennials are not embracing traditional ways of giving. It also highlights a 2014 YMCA survey that people are suffering from “engagement fatigue” as we all lead increasingly busy lives while also being bombarded with information and requests for help. That study showed double-digit declines in both charitable giving and volunteerism since 2010.
Economic and social changes in our society are absolutely impacting our motivations for giving, the ways we give, and the attention we will give to new appeals for support in the months and years to come. Change happens and society has always adapted to such change – sometimes too slowly or too quickly depending on your perspective. But as long as there are causes to be championed and needs that continue to go unmet by private or government sector solutions, we will not see reductions in the number of nonprofits sending appeal letters, or flooding our inboxes and social media streams with appeals for support. Nor should we.
Like most people, the devastating events of the last two months have captivated my attention. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria ripped paths of destruction across our nation and its territories causing untold human and financial suffering. And the mass shooting in Las Vegas this week brought inexplicable panic and horror to those concert goers, to their loved one, and to a society that feels less and less safe with every horrendous act of violence or terror.
Philanthropy, simply stated, means the love of humankind. If ever there was a time for all of us to step forward with more love and compassion for neighbors and strangers, now is one of those times. If you have enough discretionary income to do something big, do it. If your means are more modest and you can simply share in a special offering at your church or give a few dollars to the relief drives taking place through your local civic club or scout troop, do it. Big or small, whatever you can do to help bring hope and healing to those who are suffering will matter. Give money. Give blood. Give your time. Give a call to your congressman telling them not to forget about these people and these issues after the television cameras are turned off. Give your thoughts and prayers. Whatever you can do to help those who are suffering, please do it.
And rather than complain about the exhaustion from our busy lives and the countless appeals for help by those organizations doing important work on our behalf during these national crises – or doing the important work on our behalf in our own community, take a deep breath and remember the words of 16th Century Protestant Clergyman John Bradford, “There, but for the grace of God, goes I.”