American giving surpasses $400 billion

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Believe it or not, there is good news to report these days.

According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, last year Americans donated more than $410 billion in cash to non-profit organizations, which is up from $389 billion in 2016. Additionally, giving by individuals represented more than 70 percent of total contributions.

“Americans’ record-breaking charitable giving in 2017 demonstrates that even in divisive times our commitment to philanthropy is solid. As people have more resources available, they are choosing to use them to make a difference, pushing giving over $400 billion,” said Aggie Sweeney, chair of Giving USA Foundation, reported last June in Giving USA.

Contributions went up across the board, signaling that Americans seem to be giving according to their beliefs and interests, which are diverse and wide-ranging, Sweeney added.

“The increase in giving in 2017 was generated in part by increases in the stock market, as evidenced by the nearly 20 percent growth in the S&P 500. Investment returns funded multiple very large gifts, most of which were given by individuals to their foundations, including two gifts of $1 billion or more,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel dean of UI’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, in Giving USA.

“This tells us that some of our most fortunate citizens are using their wealth to make some significant contributions to the common good.”

Washington State is blessed with some of America’s most generous people, strong corporate givers and charitable foundations. For example, Microsoft co-founder Bill and Melinda Gates combined their money with Nebraska’s Warren Buffett to provide over $50 billion in charitable funds. Paul G. Allen, Microsoft’s other co-founder and his foundations, also based in Seattle, set aside over $650 million for charity.

A key question on voters’ minds this year is did the 2017 federal tax cuts spur contributions? While it is too early to tell and 2018 Giving USA report should provide some answers, it did stimulate additional funding.

“When Congress approved a tax-cut bill last December, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg pledged to devote $300 million to charitable contributions and workplace investments,” Alan Boyle, GeekWire’s aerospace and science editor, reported.

Boeing earmarked $100 million shares for donations, workforce development and infrastructure enhancements for Boeing employees. Those funds are in addition to what Boeing already contributes in our state.

The cash contribution is only part of the story. Many businesses, and those they employ, have jumped in with donated services and products that are not included in the Center’s calculations. In many ways, that generosity and willingness to help people in need is what defines America.

For example, in our region, farmers recently joined firefighters to knock down massive wildfires devastating forests and fields surrounding the Columbia River Gorge.

Many American corporations are among those responding to natural disasters. For example, Walmart, the second largest corporate philanthropic company, and the Walmart Foundation donated more than $35 million to 2017 disaster relief efforts resulting from hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerta Rico. Those contributions have greatly augmented our military and FEMA responses.

As generous as our large companies are, the vast majority of charity in Americaand here in Washingtonis quietly donated by small businesses and individuals who never make the headlines.

One notable exception is Jim McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston. When Hurricane Harvey devastated the Gulf Coast, he opened his stores to those left homeless. He did the same when many New Orleans residents retreated to Houston after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

While some may focus on what is wrong with America, our philanthropy is what we continue to do well.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

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