How Philanthropy Fuels American Success

This exclusive excerpt details how America's deep culture of private giving keeps our nation thriving

Philanthropy is a very big part of what makes America America.

Start with the brute numbers: Our nonprofit sector now employs 11 percent of the U.S. workforce. It will contribute around 6 percent of GDP in 2015 (up from 3 percent in 1960). And this doesn’t take into account volunteering—the equivalent of an additional 5-10 million full-time employees (depending on how you count), labor worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

America’s fabled “military-industrial complex” is often used as a classic example of a formidable industry. Well guess what? The nonprofit sector passed the national-defense sector in size way back in 1993.

And philanthropy’s importance stretches far beyond economics. Each year, seven out of ten Americans donate to at least one charitable cause. Contributions are from two to 20 times higher in the U.S. than in other countries of comparable wealth and modernity. Private giving is a deeply engrained part of our culture—a font of human creativity and crucial source of new solutions to problems. Voluntary efforts to repair social weaknesses, enrich our culture, and strengthen community life have long been a hallmark of our country.

Yet, somehow, there exists no definitive resource that chronicles our philanthropy and puts it in a context where it can be fully appreciated. Until now. The Philanthropy Roundtable decided that the great American undertakings of private giving and voluntarism deserve a worthy standard reference. So we created an entirely new work. It helps readers understand the potency of philanthropic institutions, explains their influence on our daily lives, and profiles some of the fascinating men and women who have given creatively to improve our country in thousands of ways.

The Almanac of American Philanthropy, released in January, will appeal to everyday citizens, donors, charity workers, journalists, national leaders, and culture and history buffs. It offers an authoritative collection of major achievements of U.S. philanthropy, lively profiles of the nation’s greatest givers (large and small), and useful compilations of the most important ideas, statistics, polls, literature, quotations, and thinking on this quintessentially American topic.

The facts, stories, and history contained in the Almanac will fill gaping practical and intellectual holes in our self-awareness. And in this special issue of Philanthropy you’ll get a detailed preview. The pages that follow present a rich, illustrated introduction not only to this important new book, but to the vital institution of philanthropy itself.

Click here to read Part I, “Donors + Passion = Accomplishment”

Karl Zinsmeister is creator of  The Almanac of American Philanthropy, just published by The Philanthropy Roundtable. This excerpt is adapted from the book’s Introduction and its national poll results.

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