01/08/2014 10:43 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2014

Philanthropy: It's What Americans Do

As early as 1830, Americans were forming volunteer associations around social and civil causes.  Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about it in his Democracy in America, written after a nine-month visit to the United States in 1831-32. From a Wikipedia article on philanthropy: “Americans, he [de Tocqueville] said, did not rely on others --- government, an aristocracy, or the church -- to solve their public problems; rather, they did it themselves, through voluntary associations, which is to say, philanthropy, which was characteristically democratic.”  

Recently an acquaintance of mine remarked that a visiting German professor commented on American philanthropy relative to academic institutions, saying he wished his country had the same tradition.

Dan Palotta, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says “Americans are the world’s most generous contributors to philanthropic causes. Some 65 percent of all American households with an income of less than $100,000 donate to some type of charity…” 

A household income of less than $100,000 describes a lot of folks, wouldn’t you say? See what I mean about American philanthropy being democratic in the purest sense of the word? 

Americans have a history of addressing problems head-on.  We see a need and tackle it.  What starts as a small group of dedicated volunteers spearheads an effort to make positive change.

This is the season of giving. Just like you, I get a lot of requests at this time of year.  We all make these philanthropic decisions differently.  We all want to make an impact, to make things better in the future.  What we see at the National Veterans Foundation  is that supporting a veteran isn’t, in the end, about that single individual.  There’s always a family involved, friends, loved ones, a community, our society at large, our culture, the contribution that individual can make toward building the future. In short, what we stand for as a nation.

We think of ourselves as a caring people, fiercely individual to be sure, but ultimately, caring.  This is when the rubber meets the road.  Do the American thing at this time of year.  And then get involved.  The kind of change we work for is more than a one-time gift.  It’s a commitment.  And that’s what built this nation, and what our veterans exemplify.

Wishing you every good thing in the New Year.  Pass it on.