In a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, author Jeff Cain encourages us to rethink how we measure generosity in the United States. Traditionally, fundraisers rely on Giving USA’s annual report on the state of philanthropy that measures American’s giving to the nonprofit sector. In its most recent report, Giving USA found that Americans gave $499 billion to charity in 2022. That was down ten percent from 2021 giving levels (inflation adjusted figures), largely as a result of the impact of high inflation and a retreating stock market.
However, what these figures neglect to tell us is how giving has shifted in the United States. Now, many donors can contribute through crowdfunding and other private acts of kindness, which Giving USA doesn’t measure. In 2022, more than twenty-eight million people sent or received donations through popular crowdfunding sources. Over the last decade, over $25 billion has been raised through GoFundMe alone. In addition, economic factors squeezing the middle class have caused many families to take on the responsibility of supporting adult children or elderly family members. I personally know one couple who recently helped pay off a car loan for a young family with three children under the age of six. Traditional giving data always misses these acts of generosity.
As we think about generosity in the United States, Cain encourages us to ask different questions, including:
How do we account for peer to peer giving?
How do we count rounding up at the grocery store?
What about leaving a career to care for an elderly parent?
How do we measure the impact of giving a dollar to a homeless vet on the street?
What about the family that tips more generously to help a young adult pay their rent?
These are interesting questions and ones that we should consider when thinking about Americans and the generous impulse. Maybe American giving hasn’t declined in the past year at all. Maybe it’s just shifted.