Regular and long-term listeners to these commentaries will remember that sometime before the end of the calendar year, I talk about the importance of giving and how urgently various charities and service organizations need our support. That commentary usually comes sometime in November.
It comes early to you this year. But there is a reason. More on that in just a moment. First, allow me to repeat some of what is usually said. It is this:
All of us are well aware of the importance of the last several weeks of the year to the nation’s retail industries. What is less well reported and less well understood is that the last several weeks of the year are also the make it or break it time for most of the nation’s charitable organizations, the non-profits, if you will. A great many charities, especially those that are local and community based, depend on end of the year giving for up to 30-50% of their annual budgets.
The American people are wonderfully generous. Total giving in America has risen every year for more than 40 years, with one exception. 1987: the year of the last really dramatic market slide before the one we are in now.
In each of the last two years, 2000 and 2001, total giving in America topped $200 billion for the first time, and everyone is well aware of the great outpouring of giving dedicated to helping the victims of the 9/11 tragedy. Most giving in America is done by individuals. Oh, I know that the mythology is that the bulk of American giving is done by foundations and corporations, but that simply is not true. Approximately 90% of all gift money each year comes from individual givers; that has always been true and it isn’t likely to change.
That, of course, leads me to the main point of today’s commentary, which is that the giving we do this year is more important than ever. Here is why.
Most charitable organizations benefited greatly from the economic prosperity of the 1990’s. But most of these same charitable organizations are now being badly hurt from the economic downturn. And there is a perverse twist to this: Charitable organizations are now having to cut back on the services they can offer at exactly the time when there is an increased need for those services.
The shortfall in gifts is not going to be made up by government support. And almost every foundation you can name is having to cut back their giving because they, too, have been hurt by the falling stock markets. There are similar stories on the corporate front.
That means, dear friends and neighbors, that it is us. That is why this commentary comes early this year. It is to make the plea for special attention, extra care, and exceptional generosity this year. This is a good year to give early and often and to give more. You choose to whom you should give, but give and give generously.
The services these many non-profit organizations provide enrich our communities in so many ways, ways that we mostly take for granted. Many of these same organizations provide the help many people need to get from one day to the next. So please help. To be able to give is of itself a great gift.
This is Olin Robison.
Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.