The numbers are happily counter-intuitive. Very happily!
According to the philanthropy tracker Atlas of Giving, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, charitable giving rose 12.9% in 2013 over 2012 as Americans donated an impressive $416.5 billion last year. Even better: this surge was no anomaly but rather the third straight yearly increase based on an algorithm incorporating economic, demographic, and event factors.
A strong stock market has been cited as the catalyst, especially tangible in education giving, which was up 15.7%. I’m sure that’s true but, equity markets notwithstanding, public confidence in the economy is still shaky. At best, the mood out there doesn’t seem to be so buoyant as to inspire unstinted giving.
So I’m also wondering if there are deeper-seated reasons for the repeated increases over a period of years. The three-year timing offers food for thought. In 2010, there was at least some sense that the economic disaster of just two years earlier was over. With respect to institutional and personal giving, a great deal of energy that had been squelched during the dark days of the crisis was suddenly released. Giving was one way for our society to tell itself that it had indeed survived.
I would also venture to say that, among those who survived the financial crash, there was a deeply felt sense of kinship for those permanently affected. Perhaps the most illustrative datum is that the biggest increase in giving was in disaster aid, which rose 18.7% to $49.6-billion. Of course, the disasters may have been greater in 2013 and, like Hurricane Sandy, affected high-profile urban and media centers.
Yet what else was the economic crash of 2008 but a hurricane, a tsunami, an earthquake that devoured human lives? Perhaps after that disaster, we’ve all been more keenly sensitive to those whose lives get devastated by events beyond their control. Perhaps that economic disaster would have prodded us to give more even if the stock market had not performed so well.
I’ll be very disappointed if the numbers for 2014 don’t continue to rise. Hopefully too, the same charity will prevail without a natural disaster to remind us of our shared vulnerabilities.