We’re living in a time when civility and kindness can seem in short supply and divisiveness appears to be taking over. From political infighting all over the 24/7 national news to just plain rude social media comments, it’s easy to start feeling negative about our society.
But you need only to unplug and look closer to home, in your own neighborhood and community, to get a welcome dose of reassurance that there’s ample reason for hope.
Through my work in philanthropy as part of a global fundraising consulting firm, I know that – despite the divisive and polarizing rhetoric we hear in the news – astounding acts of kindness and a spirit of collegiality surround us. In fact, millions of Americans are creating environments focused on compassion, kindness, and respect through their collaboration and generosity.
There’s nothing misguided or overly idealistic about having hope in people nowadays. It’s important to recognize that for a growing number of Americans, it’s always the time for giving. The data about people helping others doesn’t lie:
- The 2018 Volunteering in America Report says more Americans than ever – a whopping 77.4 million adults (30.3 percent) –volunteered for an organization in 2017, representing an estimated $167 billion in economic value.
- According to Giving USA, charitable giving to U.S. charities increased across all four segments – American individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations – and exceeded $410 billion for the first time ever in 2017.
- Giving circles, aka collective giving groups, are on the rise. This relatively recent form of philanthropy in which individuals donate money and time to a pooled fund tripled to 1,087 in less than ten years, according to the Collective Giving Research Group. More than 150,000 donors have given up to $1.29 billion through giving circles. Of these groups, 84 percent make grants in a local geographic area whereas 60 percent are formed around an identity like gender, race, age or religion. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise: women account for 70 percent of all giving circle members.
But despite the common thinking that incivility causes people to tune out and turn away from the public square, evidence points to an entirely opposite response. At least at the local level, people from all walks are solving problems and improving their communities by showing up and working together.
The positive impact of engagement at the local level was one of the key takeaways from a late 2018 panel discussion at the National Press Club, “Society in Crisis: How Philanthropy Can Change Narratives Amid Uncertainty,” which drew prominent foundation and nonprofit leaders from around the country.
As one community trust leader put it, “The higher up we go, the more divided we are. But at the neighborhood level, divisions often go away,” as people become united over an interest in making things better in their immediate area. Indeed, foundation and nonprofit officials are increasingly encouraging their organizations to fully embrace public participation by throwing the doors wide open to citizen voices at the local level.
Thankfully, despite all the gloom and doom, philanthropy continues to play a key role in civilized society. It’s heartening to be reminded that Americans are still taking the time to help others and their communities.
Just look around or, even better, become involved with a nearby organization that piques your interest. You’ll find out that kindness and goodwill continue to flourish.
Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President, Associations and Social Change Sectors at Graham-Pelton Consulting. Contact her by email or by calling 1800-608-7955.