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Are We Losing the Charitable Habit?

Every year Giving USA touts the new numbers for charitable giving. Each year those numbers cross the 300 billion dollar mark, and 2017 tallies are likely to be even higher. At first blush, the $300 billion number sounds impressive.

But there’s something hiding beneath the numbers that is not good.

There are fewer people giving—or at least so it appears.

From 2000 to 2006, 30-31% of Americans reported making a gift to charity, as indicated by available IRS data. But in 2015, the number dropped to 24%—a 7% decline. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported these findings in “Breaking the Charity Habit” (October 2017).

Some want to blame the recession of 2008-2009 as part of the cause. The thinking is that the recession took some Americans out of the habit of charitable giving. For years now, I’ve contended that the recession simply revealed broader demographic cracks in the foundation of charitable giving. (See my article “Short-Term Recession or the Long Winter: Rethinking the Theology of Money” in the Christian Research Journal, 2010).

Those broader demographic trends included the fact that some of our most generous people were getting older and retiring—and at the same time cutting back on their giving. On the other hand, the younger generations were less inclined to go to church and, from there, develop the giving habit.

The Chronicle article points out that non-profits are relying on fewer, more-affluent donors. It is the day of the major donor. And while major donors are indeed making major gifts, the reality is that the backbone of most organizations is the everyday donors—those who contribute the $50 per month. The everyday donors help pay the light bills and carry the overhead. The major donors are the ones who help pay for expansion. We need both.

When the reports come out about 2017 giving, I fully expect to find that it was a record year. But amidst the celebration, we need to look beyond the headlines and fully address how well we are teaching the younger generations to be givers in an everyday kind of way. While this issue is vital to the charities who perform such good work, the idea of everyday generosity also bodes well for the kind of world we all want to live in.

Related articles:
Leaving Wealth to Children—Examples from the Real World
Where is Giving Going—Mid-Year 2016?
Bring Refreshment to Others for Yourself

About Bill High

Bill is CEO of the National Christian Foundation Heartland. He works with families, individual givers, and financial advisers to share the foundation’s message regarding biblical generosity and charitable giving. He is the co-author with David Green of Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously: www.givingitallawaybook.com. » Learn More

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