Independence Day is the time when we reflect on the founding of our nation, our love of freedom, and our shared values. High on that list is sharing and caring for one another.
The release of “Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy” reinforces the breadth and depth of this sentiment. Total charitable contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations are estimated at $316.23 billion for 2012. Individuals accounted for the majority of estimated gifts in 2012 — 72 percent of total giving. When giving by bequests and family foundations is added, the share of contributions from American households increases to 86 percent.
Americans are givers, and philanthropy is not just practiced by the wealthiest among us. Some two-thirds of U.S. households give to charities.
Americans do more than write checks. More than 1 out of 4 people volunteer their time to favorite causes. Volunteers are much more likely than nonvolunteers to donate to a charitable cause, with 78.2 percent contributing $25 or more compared to 38.5 percent of nonvolunteers.
What’s behind this ethic of giving of time, talent and treasure? It’s not that we’re a nation of saints. There’s a practical dimension to empathy. It just makes sense: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
It can be traced back to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian, who wrote “Democracy in America” in 1835, observing the power of community involvement, engagement and bonds.
That practical habit of lending a helping hand continues today. At some time all of us will be in need. We all face economic, physical or mental hardship. We won’t make it without the help and support of others.
Another key motivation is the satisfaction of giving back. After enjoying good fortune, many people choose to share it with the schools, medical facilities and other institutions that have helped them and family members along the way.
Finally, there’s a nourishing element to giving. Philanthropy is a two-way transaction that does as much for the donor as the recipient. Donors are enriched through the process and feel better about themselves.
All the while, competition for the philanthropic dollar is fierce. Nonprofits need to effectively tell their stories, build relationships, and align their missions with the interests, values and priorities of donor prospects.
America is the most generous nation on earth. No other country comes close. For the past 50 years, Americans have voluntarily given 2 percent of gross domestic product for charitable causes. In Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and other major industrial democracies, charitable giving is just 1 percent of the economy or less.
Giving is an admirable part of our culture. It’s something to be proud of, celebrated and passed along from one generation to the next.