Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Tuesday: Just another "themed" day?

Posted by Tessie San Martin - Plan International USA CEO

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday…It seems as if every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas must now have a special theme – all intended to help separate us from our hard-earned money. Now we come to another theme: “Giving Tuesday.” Is it a marketing ploy, a clever way to appeal to our better angels in this holiday season? A reminder to put your favorite charity on your list as you power shop before the holidays?

Do we need Giving Tuesday? No, in a word, we don’t. As you’ll see when you read through some statistics I’ve included, it’s clear that Americans don’t need to be reminded to give. Rather, Giving Tuesday should be a celebration of our collective generosity of spirit. Last year total giving in the US to charitable organizations was almost $300 billion1. This is about 2 percent of GDP and a 4 percent increase relative to 2010, signaling that perhaps the decline in giving the U.S. has experienced since the recession started may be attenuating. And, as reported by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, individual giving as a percentage of disposable personal income remained at 1.9 percent in 2011, the same as in 2009 and 2010. Despite the very difficult times so many in this country have faced with the economic downturn, Americans remain committed to helping others.

These are impressive figures. But how does American generosity compare to other countries? A number of studies show that Americans give, per capita, three and a half times as much to causes and charities as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians. These differences are apparently not attributable to demographic characteristics such as education, income, age, sex, or marital status.

And it is not explained fully by differences in the tax code. Indeed, our country has a culture of giving that goes far beyond tax breaks. While the wealthiest citizens give the most in sheer dollar amounts — the top 10 percent accounting for at least a quarter of giving, the Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that households that earn $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more. Low-income employed Americans are the ones who give the highest portion of their income, or 4.5 percent.

As I read these reports on giving patterns in the US, I could not help but remember how much my own family benefited from this generosity when it immigrated to the United States from Cuba, having left everything it owned behind. And it was not just generosity in terms of money, but of spirit.

Giving Tuesday should not be a reminder to be generous. It is, rather, a celebration of generosity. This commitment to philanthropy, which fuels the good work of our organization (and so many organizations in the country), and which has remained through economic downturns and hardships, is uniquely American; it is the source of much of our strength as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. To all our donors on this Giving Tuesday (and every day): thank you for your generosity and support.

1Giving USA 2012, the Annual Report on Philanthropy.

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