Brother, can you spare an excuse?
Middle-class philanthropy may be dying.
Citing a study released by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, “National Review” magazine says the share of American households donating to charity nosedived from 66 percent in 2000 to 50 percent in 2018.
And only one-third of the decline was directly attributable to economic hardships, with the remainder coming from decreases in interpersonal trust, decline in empathy and an unfortunate “give until it hurts” loophole that lets people identify as the Princess and the Pea. (“Ouch! I got whiplash signing that donation. This lawsuit will pay for a heck of a lot of peafree mattresses.”) Sure, millionaire donors and prestigious foundations are doing a bang-up job of funding museums, metropolitan hospitals and trendy causes (“I’m pledging one million dollars to the Make A Wish Foundation For Endangered Mussels, just as soon as the mussels, um, develop enough of a brain to actually make a, you know, WISH”). But local charities such as animal shelters, soup kitchens and libraries are continually tightening their belts and dealing with neighbors who mutter, “I gave at the Zoom meeting. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
(Ever notice that the people who insist “charity begins at home” are the same jokers who grab the last piece of chicken, hog the blanket and leave a trail of dirty laundry? But I digress.)
No matter how many veterans need rides or parks need beautifying, we find ways to create even more dilemmas. (“Ow! I detached my retina and walked into traffic while trying not to make eye contact with fundraisers. A little help, please?”) Some analysts connect the dots between the erosion of community involvement and the decline in religious affiliation. In 2004, 46 percent of households gave money to churches or other religious organizations. As of 2018, that had dropped to just 29 percent of households. (“What Would Jesus Do? YOU say he would volunteer at the homeless shelter. I say he would change water to Roth IRAs. Agree to disagree.”) I know there are highly motivated, civic-minded young people out there; but by and large, there is a discernible difference in the work ethic and charity ethic of different generations. (“But, like if the old dude dies because he can’t pay his heating bill, he can buy another life, can’t he? What? For real?”) Let’s all keep our eyes open for opportunities and dig a little deeper for good causes to which we can contribute our money, time, talents or hideous sweaters that we can convince great-aunt Hilda need dry cleaning every time she inquires about them.
Widespread giving has been described as the “lifeblood of civil society” and we must brainstorm ways to get the blood pumping again.
I know it won’t be easy. The law of inertia has worked mightily to chip away at traditional dedication to charity. People got out of the habit of giving because of a temporary economic setback or because government agencies seemed to have things under control, and it’s hard to get back in gear.
Unfortunately, identifying that problem leads to other problems. Since it’s the law of inertia getting the blame, some rabblerouser will inevitably lead a group of volunteers to desecrate the grave of Sir Isaac Newton.
(“I’m not too keen on the law of universal gravitation, either. And his fig bars stink.”) *Sigh* Anybody want to volunteer as a tutor?
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”