"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."
--Lucius Annaeus Seneca
What does it mean to be grateful?
The dictionary says, "Gratefulness is a 'state' or quality of being grateful that can provide a deeper, more unconditional, and robust experience of gratitude."
Unlike gratitude, gratefulness does not require waiting for outside circumstances to conform to our desires. It isn't positive thinking. Gratefulness is consciously choosing to adopt a grateful orientation to life--no matter what happens. (Grateful Living)
Almost eight in ten U. S. adults regularly feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness, although women (84%) are more likely than men (72%) to exhibit that pattern of behavior. (Pew Research Center)
Kristina Karns, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the University of Oregon, posted on Conversation.com, "When you're grateful, your brain becomes more charitable."
Generosity ("the virtue of giving to others freely and abundantly") is a value that builds on gratefulness and gratitude.
Joshua Becker, writing on the Becoming Minimalist website, says, "Every study ever completed on the personal effects of generosity tells us the same thing: Being generous is one of the quickest paths to happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction."
Motivating forces to give
Giving USA estimates for 2022 show Americans gave $499.33 billion to charitable organizations, a 3.4% decline compared to 2021. Adjusted for inflation, the total declined 10.5%.
Once again, giving by individuals led the way with 64% or $319.04 billion, a decrease of 6.4%. Foundations gave 21% or $105.21 billion, an increase of 2.5%. Bequests accounted for 9% or $45.60 billion, a 2.3% increase. Corporations gave 6% or $21.08 billion, a 3.4% increase over 2021.
Religion (almost exclusively congregations) received $143.57 billion or 27%, the largest of any category, with a 5.2% increase over 2021. Human Services took in $71.98 billion of the total. Education, which fell to third place for the first time, received $70.07 billion or 13% of charitable giving, a decrease of 3.6%.
A person's attendance at a house of worship is the single best indicator of overall charitable giving, religious and secular. Those who attend frequently, at least two or three times a month, are three times more generous than those who attend less often or not at all. (The Lake Institute)
Generosity is an expression of faith.
The median income of the nation's churches is up nearly 42% from three years ago. From the Spring of 2020 to the Spring of 2023, church median income in the U.S. increased from $120,000 to $170,000. "Even adjusting for inflation, that still represents a remarkable increase of over 25% since 2020," said Scott Thumma, Ph.D., who directed the EPIC and Faith Communities Studies.
That same report shows the more a church emphasizes online and electronic giving, the greater their per capita income. Additionally, the greater the in-person over virtual ratio, the larger the per capita giving. In-person attenders gave $2,479 per capita compared to $1,053 from their virtual counterparts.
A cloudy forecast for some
Here are charitable giving trends worth watching--
-Fewer Americans are donating to charity. It was 80% in 1980 and now 50% in 2022. That amounts to 20 million fewer donations and a retention rate of around 43%. (Bre Alexander, iWave)
-A growing number of U.S. adults are less likely to attend religious services or identify with a specific religion. Three in ten say they have no religious affiliation. Four in ten Millennials make that claim. (NORC-AP)
-There's top-heavy philanthropy in America. Wealthy donors are giving less to charities that serve the public and more to institutions trying to solve big problems. Just six donors represented 5% of all giving in 2022. (Winkler Group)
-And there's more competition for nonprofit donor dollars with over 450,000 new 501 (c) (3)'s in the past decade.
An uneven distribution of wealth
Baby Boomers, 73 million, with the youngest turning 60 and the oldest 80, are preparing for the most significant wealth transfer in U.S. history.
The New York Times suggests that they are leaving behind liquid assets, homes, or not much at all. The upper strata of Boomer households will turn over millions in cash, securities, and billions in various investments.
In 1989, U.S. family wealth totaled $38 trillion. At the end of 2022, that had tripled to $140 trillion, half of which is held by the Baby Boomers. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down to Millennials and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred in the next decade. (Federal Reserve)
The wealthiest 10% of households will be giving and receiving most of the riches. Within that range, the top 1%--which holds about as much wealth as the bottom 90% and is predominantly white--will determine where the broadest share of money goes. A more diverse bottom 50% of households will account for only 8% of the transfers. (Federal Reserve)
"Giving while living" is a philosophy of wealth promoted by Charles Feeney, the billionaire founder of Duty-Free Shoppes. Feeney, whose biography, The Billionaire Who Wasn't, #2 on the best-selling philanthropy book list, and who passed in October of this year, felt more should be done while the principal donor is still alive. Feeney's obituary said he practiced what he preached, giving away nearly all of his $8 billion fortune to charity "as quietly as it was made."
Where to begin
Lessons from a trove of development experiences are available to help nonprofits improve.
Capturing some of the best thinking:
1. Be able to explain to a variety of audiences in clear and understandable terms what your mission is, who it serves, and how it's different. And why it deserves funding.
2. Show others how they can be part of the cause. It's not necessary to always talk about needs. Let donors know how they can belong and play a heroic role in fulfilling the charity's goals.
3. Donor surveys show the importance of high regard for the organization's leadership. When they have confidence in those people to perform, gifts follow.
4. People whose lives are being helped tell the story best. Testimonials are more authentic and credible from those benefiting from your outreach and compassion.
5. Mobile technology, social media, and websites communicate the latest information with donors and make giving easy. Electronic and online giving are essential for multi-generational contributions. A.I. and ChatGPT are on the way, too.
Ultimately, though, giving is more about human than scientific knowledge.
6. Remember the base. Know who they are and keep them close. Be sure to say "thank you" for each dollar given.
Broaden the base through donor referrals, ensuring adults 65+ are included in that recruitment. They have time, money, and knowledge to share. Teaching kids to be generous is an investment in their and society's future. Involve them, too.
7. There's a 100% correlation between didn't give and wasn't ask. It's okay to ask for a gift. If you don't, those funds will likely go somewhere else.
A grateful heart
Attorney John Kralik, a University of Michigan graduate, had come to the end of the line. His small law firm was failing. He was estranged from his daughter. Had gone through a painful second divorce. He was overweight and alone in a small apartment where he froze or baked, depending on the season.
One day, he thought he should not be thinking about what he didn't have and be grateful for what he had. His book, A Simple Act of Gratitude, tells how Kralik was inspired by a thank you note he received for sending a Christmas gift. Could that simple expression of gratitude be his way out of a miserable existence?
So John Kralik started writing thank you notes. Not just a few. Or a dozen. He wrote 365 thank you notes, one for each day of the year.
As the notes went out, his life began to turn around. There was financial gain. Improved personal relationships. Weight loss. An appointment to a California judgeship. And most of all, inner peace.
As to being in a place of unconditional order, John Milton wrote:
"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."
As we enter the holiday season, may the truth of Milton's prose be a gift to all.