Giving Is Down, but What Does That Mean?

BlogHer Original Post

It doesn't need sugar-coating. The economy has made life difficult and different for families all over the country in all kinds of ways. We've seen blog posts about budgeting, cutting out unnecessary spending and going without extras. But the recent news that charitable giving has dropped 100 billion is a big indicator that we're all cutting back. Everywhere on everything.

The news that donations are down isn't surprising in itself. We've all been cutting back in one way or another. Cutting back on or completely cutting out giving money to our favorite charities makes sense when you look at the advice we've all been given. When it comes down to buying groceries and medication or helping others, it makes sense that we're taking care of ourselves and our families first.

The surprising thing is the huge drop -- that 100 billion -- in 2009. I know that I played a part in that drop, however small, as we cut back our normal donations by nearly half. My family isn't scrounging to put food on the table, but we have re-budgeted money and have cut back on the extras. Seeing these numbers now, I feel kind of guilty.

My husband doesn't feel guilty. He says that we do what we can, both with money and with our time spent volunteering. He has no guilt that we cut back on the giving of money. His attitude falls in line with the findings by the Women Give 2010 study out of the University of Indiana. They found that women give more than men.

The study featured four findings about men, women and giving.

  • In each of the five different income groups analyzed, female-headed households are MORE LIKELY TO GIVE to charity than male-headed households.
  • In every income group except for one, women GIVE MORE than men.
  • Female headed households are MORE LIKELY TO GIVE than men in comparable households except for the widow/widower category.
  • Female headed households GIVE MORE than men in comparable households
    except for the widow/widower category.

The conclusion of the study is that gender matters in philanthropy. Of course, I'm wondering if they did a study comparing men and women with hands on volunteering if it would still be the same, taking into account what my husband said about volunteering still counting as our family contributing to charitable works. Are men more hands on? (I don't know the answer: do you?) I'd like to see some number crunching comparing the two for a real view on how men and women differ on the subject of supporting charities -- either with money or with works.

The fact remains: giving is down. Men and women alike have cut back. What does it mean? What are we doing?

Over at Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog, she talked about the Giving USA reports about charitable donations in 2009. She highlighted the various groups that saw increases and decreases and made another interesting point.

Giving to individuals decreased by 3.6 percent in current dollars in 2009. Most often, these are gifts of medications to patients in need and are made by operating foundations created by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

This is probably one thing that isn't heavily researched by those looking at the decreases in the Top 400 Charities. How many people had to re-budget their money to help out family members or close friends who came on the hardest of times? As an example, my grandfather died this past January. In April, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her health insurance was charging a ridiculous amount for each radiation appointment. As a family, we helped her finance her health by fronting money. We're still "giving." Are people taking notice?

I hope that readers won't read the news that giving is down and either dismiss it -- "We just don't have the money to give!" -- or feel too guilty and/or insignificant to do anything about it -- "What good is my twenty dollars in the face of 100 billion?" There are ways that families can give -- money and time -- even during the hardest of times.

Bloggers have already thought up and written about creative ways to give back during this season of "less."

  • Tricia Goyer has some creative ideas for getting kids excited about volunteering. Her post has great tips, including this one that hopes to foster that giving spirit.

    Kids love to know when they’ve done a good job. After volunteering, talk to your child about the experience. Let her know how it makes you feel to see her acting in such a mature and giving nature. It will be just the thing that will make your child want to do it again.

  • Over at Moms and the City, the bloggers talked about how to get kids involved in the giving process. I really like this idea of involving your children in every act of kindness.

    The more we do, the more we can do. That’s my motto. I’ve always included my kids in every act of kindness. Whether it is a small gesture of buying a homeless person a sandwich, dropping a dollar in a hat on the subway, or arranging a bigger and public event to raise money for Haiti, my kids have always been by my side. You can’t teach goodness. It must come from the heart. That’s what I try to do. The more I do, the more my kids will know what they can do.

  • For those without children, you can better educate yourself -- and thus make your dollar go further -- by making sure the non-profits to which you are donating are on the up-and-up. Tactical Philanthropy offers five questions to ask before you donate, and then goes on to explain why.

    Plenty of nonprofit groups can show financial success. But donors need to ask the probing questions that will make sure that dollars flow only to organizations that turn financial resources into program results.

Did you cut back in charitable giving over the past year? Does the huge drop in giving motivate you to give back -- time or money -- or are you still overwhelmed with your own budgetary needs? Are you focusing on your own family at this time, considering your family's well-being charity enough at this time? Feel free to discuss these topics in the comments.


Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer.

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