More Than Money
Issue #12

Creative Giving

Table of Contents

“Creative Giving”

Leaving 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 others.

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.

U.S. GIVING NORMS
WHO makes the funding decisions?
One person, alone or with spouse.

WHAT is given?
Roughly 2% of income.

WHEN is giving done?
When asked, and especially at the end of the tax year.

WHERE is money given?
To religious, educational, and medical organizations where the giver has some personal connection.

WHY do people give?
Because asked; out of a sense of social obligation.

HOW 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 delight.

For most 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 Mogil, editors


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