the restaurant we felt gleeful. On the meal tab we had
written a note to the waitress: "Thanks, you made
our day!," along with a
tip that was twice the price of our dinner. Considering
the delight we got from stepping beyond our customary
15-20% tip (and we didn't stay to witness its effect on
our waitress), it's a wonder we haven't done this at every
meal! Or at least a few times in the
years since then. But "giving norms"
don't change easily.
We were astonished to discover
that the average charitable giving of Americans across
all income categories has stayed at approximately 2% of
income for the last 30 years. This consistency is especially
surprising given that wealthy families (those in the Internal
Revenue Service's top two categories) had an 80% increase
in real income from 1980 to 1991 alone. Why doesn't more
of this windfall-much of which must be discretionary -
- go towards their charitable giving?
We imagine that a complex web of factors are at work. One reason might be that
people are influenced a great deal by what's "normal"
around them. In the arena of giving, one norm is that
people rarely talk about their philanthropic decisions,
joys and quandaries. Certainly they don't often divulge
how much they personally give!
So most of us have little
idea how our experience and level of giving compares with
For simplicity's sake we
offer below a snapshot of patters of U.S. giving taken from researchers.
Of course, any quick statement is over-generalized; patters
of generosity are influenced by race, religion, gender,
and many other factors.
makes the funding decisions?
One person, alone or with spouse.
Roughly 2% of income.
is giving done?
When asked, and especially at the end of the tax year.
is money given?
To religious, educational, and medical
organizations where the giver has some personal connection.
do people give?
Because asked; out of a sense of social obligation.
is money given?
Privately, by writing a check directly
to public charities.
Although the U.S. giving tradition is touted
as one of the most generous in the world, we don't think
these national norms offer people with wealth much to
live up to. So we offer in this issue stories of people
who step way beyond these norms - - in how much they give,
in how they give, and in daring to break the silence about
giving. While some "step out" in opposite directions
from each other - - for instance, some give much more
carefully than the norm while others give with greater
abandon - - in all cases, transcending the norm seems
to infuse these givers with unusual vigor, purpose, and
of us, hundreds of daily concerns besides philanthropy
clamor for our attention.
Yet when giving gets short shrift, the resulting loss
impacts not only the potential recipients of our collective
donations but our own lives as well. More than most other
activities, engaging in philanthropy has
the power to infuse our days with hope for the future
and to vitally connect us to the greater human community.
We invite all of us to
examine the habits we've developed in our giving, to question
our assumptions, and to envision the giving norms we would
most like to foster - - in our own lives, in our chosen
communities, and in the wider world.
Anne Slepian and Christopher
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved