This is the season when Americans jump into their cars, roll down the windows, and drive. We gape at our country’s many wonders, and observe how folks in opposite corners of our republic live.
Some of the ventures we describe are quirky local projects (like bringing dental care to Alaska natives in remote villages). Others are monuments to the very best accomplishments in personal giving (such as repopulating an endangered species so successfully it could be taken off the threatened list).
These true stories illuminate the dense webs of local giving that make every one of our home towns more livable, richer, safer, more interesting. The varied gifts that donors and volunteers offer to their fellow citizens are a great strength of our country. They fill human hungers that would otherwise be ignored—leaving our daily lives darker and duller—or else be foisted on more impersonal, less effective agencies of government.
An undiscerning observer might say these local philanthropies are too small, too uncoordinated, too limited to generate “fundamental change.” But piece together a “Dollars for Scholars” program here and an “Alice’s Integrity Loan Fund” there, an alternative school in this town and an inspiring museum in the next, a powerful effort to get kids out of foster care in one state and a video-medicine program in another, and soon you have a gorgeous, continually regenerating transcontinental quilt that covers millions of local needs and longings.
This isn’t just theory. It’s the way our social problems actually get solved. To complement the human stories that are stitched together in our anecdotal tour of philanthropic America we created a companion article that summarizes the best hard research on how Americans give. Did you know that only 15 percent of charitable giving in the U.S. comes from foundations, and only 6 percent from corporations? The rest comes from individuals like you and me. It’s not moguls, but ordinary Americans who provide the vast preponderance of individual giving. Between 70 and 90 percent of all U.S. households donate to charity in a given year, averaging around $2,500 per household. That adds up, and most of it goes to small-scale local philanthropy of the sort we describe in this magazine installment.
While we were pulling back the covers on current giving patterns, we thought you might be interested in the surprising research on who gives most. Guess what: wealthy places like Connecticut and Silicon Valley are not at the top of the generosity list. Not even close. Residents of places like Utah, Georgia, and Nashville donate up to twice as much of their income as residents of Massachusetts, Vermont, or San Francisco.
Other items in this issue of Philanthropy include a pithy letter from Roundtable president Adam Meyerson summarizing the significance of today’s IRS scandal for philanthropists—including a list of the defensive measures the Roundtable will take to protect charitable giving in the future.
We have an interview with New York financier Stephen Schwarzman about the new $300 million Rhodes-like scholarship program he is setting up in Beijing, in hopes of improving understanding between China and the rest of the world. In another interview, one of America’s most distinguished biologists touches on why philanthropic money is often much more valuable than government science grants.
We also have two powerful commentaries for you: One is by a badly wounded soldier, warning how gifts without any personal demands can harm veterans, just as they do other recipients of largesse. The second essay points out that the most precious thing about the charitable tax deduction is how it protects freedom (a function even more vital than the social good done by the deduction).
This is the first issue of Philanthropy from our all-new team of editors and artists. The magazine has been redesigned from first page to last, and the fresh, clean look is highly readable.
So slip on a pair of shorts and sandals, grab an iced tea, and journey with us across the fertile plain of 2013 philanthropic America. You’ll enjoy the trip.