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A Working Class Hero is Something to Be

2011 March 5

Have you heard the news? The Gates Foundation is going to save Africa!  Yessss. In the meantime, Bradjolina, Madonna, Wyclef Jean, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Demi and Ashton and their many famous friends are taking care of the rest of the world’s social challenges!

Of course, I’m all for everyone doing good and doing what they can.  Kudos to these folks for their efforts, but the comments above reflect the exaggerated notion we get from the media that only the wealthy and/or famous can create change.

The power of giving by everyday American households is equal to the power of giving by the wealthy.

In reality, JUST AS MUCH credit must go to the work-a-day citizens who see something in the mail, on tv, in an email, on facebook or twitter, in their families, their neighborhoods or their children’s schools that moves them to go to their computers or take out a checkbook and give.

In fact, individuals provide 75% of ALL giving in the U.S. every year. Only 5% comes from corporations and 15% from foundations.  Affordable donations by everyday philanthropists sustain the nonprofit sector and fuel the development and dissemination of innovations to tackle poverty, disease, lack of schooling, etc.

Over $220 billion in 2009 came from American individuals. According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, nearly half of that came from non-wealthy households – those with incomes of less than $200,000 and net worth of less than $1,000,000.

So contrary to popular belief, the power of giving by everyday American households is equal to the power of giving by the wealthy.  In 2009, the Gates Foundation made $3 billion in grants.  If we assume everyday households gave $110 billion, that’s 36 times the power of the world’s wealthiest foundation.

I ask you to remember that there is often no correlation between the magnitude in importance of a story and the amount of media coverage it receives.  I give you the sad demise of Charlie Sheen as a timely example.

The big story in philanthropy today is that there are millions of everyday donors who are funding change in their communities, states, the country and the world.

Their contributions are just as important to saving Africa and taking on the biggest social challenges of our time.

“A working class hero is something to be.” John Lennon

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