By Jamey Campbell, CFRE
The early results are in, and it appears that Americans gave $456.7 billion to charity in 2014. That’s a 9 percent increase over 2013. Giving to everything from religious organizations, to social services, to education, Americans continue to be the most generous people in the world.
Americans may give away more money than any other country in the world, but how much is “more?” You might be surprised. In 2013, Barna Group conducted a poll about donor trends in the United States and found that more than half of Americans said they donated money or items (or both) to a cause they cared about in the previous year.
According to Barna, a person’s religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in. Evangelicals were far more likely to donate money, items or time as a volunteer. A total of 79 percent of those who identified themselves as evangelicals donated money, items or time in the previous year. Most people (55 percent) indicated they gave away $500 or less per year while only 5 percent said they gave away more than $5,000 per year.
It’s easy to look at the numbers and do the math. But all we get are more numbers, percentages, etc. What I think is important is the motivation behind the giving and the benefits of giving—both for the recipient and the donor.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive some kind of solicitation in the mail or by email. Some come from organizations we support and are interested in, but most are not. Being in the fundraising business myself, I realize I probably receive more than the average person just because I am interested in what others are doing and how they are communicating with their current and potential givers.
So why do we give? Is it because organizations need our money? I hope that’s not the case. We should give because the people those organizations serve need our help. Maybe it’s feeding the hungry, or providing diapers for the new baby of a single mother, or providing healthcare to the uninsured, or helping kids in depressed areas receive a better education. All these things are noble causes.
With so many “opportunities,” how do we decide where to invest our gifts? Here at Christian Medical & Dental Associations, we have dozens of efforts requiring donor funding—from healthcare missions, to student ministry on 280 medical and dental school campuses, to training national surgeons in places like Kenya, Egypt and Ethiopia. All of these endeavors need donor support in order to be successful. But when I meet individually with donors, I don’t “sell” what we are doing. I ask what interests them personally and then seek to find something we are doing that will help meet their personal giving and ministry ideology. Then it becomes a partnership, a relationship; not just a transaction.
Giving is not just good for the recipient; it’s also good for the giver. Literally. In 2013, U.S. News reported that having money doesn’t necessarily make people happy, but giving it away—even if you are not rich—is likely to make you feel wealthier and, thus, happier. In the report, it was cited that giving away $500 has the same effect on happiness as earning an extra $10,000. So if you want to be happier, give away some money.
How about your physical health? Does giving impact that as well? You bet! Research suggests volunteering may reduce the risk of heart disease.
There’s also a study that indicates people who volunteer, whether it be serving at a community soup kitchen or visiting nursing homes, may reduce their early mortality rate by 22 percent compared to those who don’t.
Ultimately, giving is a personal choice. Even the Bible says we are not to give as a result of pressure from anyone. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, ESV). It sounds like the writer was already doing his own research about giving and happiness!
Finally, let me encourage you to make giving a family activity. Involve your spouse and children. Let them see you give and volunteer and they will view it as something important, something they will want to do themselves. When the benefits of giving are applied at the family level, the results will be enjoyed by all involved.
Jamey Campbell is Vice President for Stewardship Development at Christian Medical & Dental Associations. For more information about supporting CMDA’s ministry efforts here in the U.S. and around the world, please visit www.cmda.org/giving.