The newly released figures on charitable giving in the USA during 2008 make very interesting reading. The full press release from Giving USA is available here
Despite the onset of a well-heralded recession, giving only slipped from $314 billion to $307 billion, and the decline is dragged down by larger decreases in corporate and legacy giving – individuals only slipped by 2.7%.
I have long been arguing that there is no reason to assume that philanthropy will be dramatically affected by the economic crisis. Charitable giving is a very complex and personal decision that is not driven solely by how much spare money someone has.
On the whole, people don’t think: “I’ve got money so I can give” or “I’ve got less money so I can’t give”. If the main reason that people made donations was because they could afford to, then every rich person would be a philanthropist, and every fundraiser who met a rich person would walk away with a big cheque. And if there were a direct, straightforward link between having money and making donations then people on low incomes would not be so generous, yet we know that the poorest 10% actually give away more as a percentage of their income than do the richest 10%
So, giving is not just a function of our capacity to give. The fundraisers know it and the research shows it. What a few decades of research into philanthropy shows is that people give:
• because they think the cause is important and their money can make a difference.
• because they feel good about supporting that cause or charity.
• because they care about others and the wider world.
• because they’ve been brought up to believe they have a duty to give something back.
• because they want to be part of a charity that they admire.
• because their family and friends support that charity, so they want to as well.
• because their religion encourages them to give away some of their wealth.
• because they enjoy attending the fundraising events and meeting new and interesting people.
• because they couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t.
• because in so many different ways – and in different proportions depending on each individual donor – supporting charity enhances their life.
So I’m relieved to see that the Giving USA figures do not show a terrible slump in donations, as many people predicted. And given that UK giving has consistently been less than half of that found in the US (usually below 1% of GDP versus over 2% in the US) let’s hope any decline we have is similarly halved. In fact, given the low starting point for our giving, let’s not assume it has to decline at all.