Generosity Abounds From The Least of These

A few years ago, I taught a course titled “Nonprofit Marketing, Fundraising and Community Affairs” at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Each time I taught this course, there was a point when we talked about the generosity of people. “I believe that all people have a philanthropic inclination,” I would spout. “We just have to find what lights their fire and help them to connect it.”

As part of the course, I would walk students through the makeup of giving, meaning who gives what and to whom. For over a decade, Americans have given at least $300 billion annually to domestic and international causes, from small soup kitchens to large healthcare organizations. But what shocked most of my students was that the vast majority of this giving, more than 70 percent, comes from individuals.

Also astounding to my students and many others is, of the groups of individuals who give, generally the poor give more as a percent of their income. I believe this is surprising to many because it often doesn’t align with the common perception of the poor. Some don’t understand why or how this statistic can be true. Our proximity to those who struggle with the basics of life informs how we respond. Some attribute this to a greater understanding or empathy. Giving is linked to connections, social and emotional, that we make with a cause or organization and the people being supported. The connections are generally more intense for people who experience hardship daily or see firsthand the impact of living without the basic foundations for life such as food and shelter. This point underpins why so many helping organizations invite their investors to “come see”.

Years ago, at a United Way leadership giving event, I met a woman who was a part-time delivery driver from one of our largest corporate supporters – UPS. When I asked this woman why she gave $1,000 to United Way, her answer was simple. She said, “I’ve had a family member whose home was destroyed by a fire and the Red Cross provided her assistance.” She looked around and said, “There are countless more stories like this.”

I have found generous people in every profession, at every income level, in every Zip Code and representing a tapestry of cultures, races, and social experiences.  These are the people who believe that we must unite our human and financial resources to remove the barriers people face to achieving their potential. This lights my fire.

It’s not too late to invest in our 2016 campaign or encourage someone else to give. Please visit to give now.

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