American Philanthropic Diversity: What It Means, Why It Matters

The distinctive characteristic of American philanthropy is freedom.

Americans are free to give to the charities they care about most. Perhaps they want to help repair a school, open a soup kitchen, fund medical research, rehabilitate former prisoners, protect nearby forest land, assist wounded veterans, contribute to a symphony, or support the church of their choice. However Americans want to help, they are at perfect liberty to do so.

The result has been an awe-inspiring display of human ingenuity. The breadth, depth, and variety of American charity has no historical precedent or contemporary parallel. It addresses many thousands of causes, supported by many millions of donors, all of whom take it upon themselves to try to improve their communities in some small way.

Such philanthropic diversity reflects the extraordinary creativity of free people deciding how best to give away their money. It exists because countless individuals freely come together in pursuit of a vast variety of moral goods. Each of these associations has some charitable purpose; each has its own strategy. Each is unique, and each contributes to the rich mosaic of American philanthropy.

The dimensions of our philanthropic diversity are revealed in the religious, geographical, and philosophical scope of American charity.

Religious diversity: America is the most religiously diverse nation on earth. Across the country, individuals freely come together to worship as they see fit, and, inspired by their faith, they willingly practice almsgiving. Virtually every religious tradition on the planet has inspired some form of charitable giving in the United States.

Geographic diversity: Americans contribute to charities in their own neighborhood—and on the other side of the globe. From every corner of the nation, they support what they see as the most deserving charities. It is not unusual to find city donors funding environmental protection, or rural donors funding universities thousands of miles away.

Philosophical diversity: American money flows, for reasons of faith or passion or intellectual interest, to countless causes across the nation and throughout the world. What unites these many donors with vastly different missions and vastly different strategies is their tireless work to try to leave the world a better place.

True diversity does not come from charitable organizations meeting some cosmetic ratio of race, ethnicity, and gender (or any other arbitrary criterion) among staff, boards, and grantees. That is a cramped, narrow, and unnatural understanding of diversity. Rather, true diversity exists when many different individuals and many different institutions freely commit themselves to a sweeping array of charitable activities.

Charitable giving in the United States is diverse because the American people are diverse—diverse in our aspirations, diverse in our beliefs, and diverse in our most deeply cherished values.

Philanthropic Freedom

American Philanthropic Diversity: What It Means, Why It Matters

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