THE BLOG
06/06/2012 12:29 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2012

Giving Is Down but Caring Is Up

The people of the United States were ranked as the most generous in the world in terms of giving time and money to nonprofits in 2011, up from fifth place in 2010 according to the Los Angeles Times. Sixty-five percent of Americans said they donated money to charity, 43 percent volunteered their time and 73 percent helped a stranger. As far as giving money, Thailand is the most generous with 85 percent of their population donating money and in the United Kingdom, 79 percent gave money; but the British and most of the rest of the world are about half as likely to do volunteer work as Americans; so that is how America regained its No. 1 ranking in 2011. The top-ranked USA was followed by Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University reported that Americans overall contributed 2 percent of disposable personal income to philanthropic causes, which is the percent that has remained consistent over the decades through the boom times and recessions. This tells us that despite personal and economic hardships, American's remain steadfastly committed to each other and their communities. Philanthropy is at the heart of who we are as a society. The Center breaks down our giving as:

Religious Donations 35 percent
Education 14 percent
To Foundations 11 percent
Human Services (Emergencies) 9 percent
Health 8 percent
Public Society Benefits 8 percent
Arts, Culture & Humanities 5 percent
International Affairs 5 percent
Environment/Animals 2 percent

We have always believed that our top 1 percent is the most generous part of our population to nonprofit organizations. According to Philanthropy.com, the top 50 donors in 2011 contributed $10.4 billion of which $6 billion was from Margaret Cargill who died in 2006 and her assets formed a foundation in 2011, so without this, the top 50 total was $4.4 billion. In 2007, the top 50 gave $7.3 billion and in 2008 the top 50 gave $15.5 billion. 29 people on the top 50 list in 2011 gave $50 million or more. But wealthy people still are not feeling as generous as before the recession we are currently in. The median gift from these donors is $61 million compared to $74.7 million in 2007.

This top 50 group gives differently than the rest of the USA. Thirty-six percent went to higher education, 35 percent to foundations and 15 percent to hospitals, medical centers and medical research. No one in this top 50 gave a gift of $5 million or more to a social services group. Many philanthropists don't see human service organizations as the best way to alleviate America's problems. Quoting Eli Broad (No. 49), "he has some sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street protestors, but their message of inequality supports his diagnosis of what ails America: a poor education system and education will help solve many of our problems." Interesting within this top 50 group, only two people who made the biggest gifts of the year are among the 69 who signed the Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates Giving Pledge, which promises to commit at least half of their wealth to charities.

Forbes reported that the 200 largest USA charities are only 0.002 of 1 percent of the country's 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations. Yet these top 200 received $41 billion in gifts; which is one seventh of all charitable contributions. The largest charity is The United Way; with No. 2 being the Salvation Army and No. 3 is Feeding America. In June 2011, 275,000 nonprofit organizations lost their tax exempt status for failure to file legally required documents for three consecutive years. In fact, according to the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Table 25, there are less tax exempt organizations in 2011 than in every year since 2003. With this turmoil in nonprofit organizations going in and out of business, it is no wonder that our largest donors tend to migrate to the nonprofit organizations that have been around awhile and have a track record.

The rest of us 99 percent don't have the luxury of giving millions of dollars to our favorite charity. But we can give a little, even if it is the national average of 2 percent to support causes we believe will help change the world. Here is the link to give to The United Way. Here is the link to give to The Salvation Army. DollarDays on its Facebook page is now taking nominations for 18 nonprofits to share in $5,000 of merchandise to help their causes. You should nominate your favorite nonprofit. It is an act of kindness that cost you nothing.

Giving is as good for your own soul as it is for the people you help. If you don't have the cash, do what 43 percent of American's do -- volunteer to help a nonprofit that helps others. This is an honorable way to be part of giving back, so those in need don't give up. Giving of your time or giving of your hard earned dollars has a rippling effect. A single act of kindness can change lives... and statistics.

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