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Open Letter to Everyday Donors

2011 November 15

National Philanthropy Day is November 15, and I think it’s high time the true philanthropic heroes of our times get the recognition they deserve!

Dear Everyday Donor,

Do you fear that your affordable donations to nonprofits are but a drop in the bucket, a pittance in the effort to address our most pressing social challenges, meaningless to charities and to society?

Oh ye of little faith believe in the power of your small donations! I am here to tell you that your perceptions are wrong, and I have the evidence to prove it.

Unfortunately, most of us believe that only the wealthy, celebrities and huge foundations can truly generate change. This is a myth perpetuated by the lopsided media attention these philanthropists receive.

If magnitude, power and potential of donors equaled amount of media coverage, the focus would be on the millions of Americans of modest means who give with incredible generosity year after year.

In a quick and dirty online search of the New York Times, I found 99 references to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation over the past year. I’m not quibbling with the Times’ decision to cover the Foundation’s work; however, I do have a problem with the paper’s lack of coverage of giving by everyday donors and the enormous amount of social good that results. The Times is not alone in this oversight. Most media sources cover primarily the largest donors. The numbers are big and the possible impact equally impressive. Pair a hot young celebrity with a social cause and you’ve got a sexy story!

The trap here is that the real story is not sexy, but it is the truth, and it holds at least as much promise for creating social change as the one-time enormous gifts that get press.

In order to create some balance and a new perspective about philanthropy in the U.S., here are some facts you should know:

In 2010, non-wealthy individuals gave approximately $100 billion to charitable causes.

That amount was 42 times the $2.5 billion in grants made by the Gates Foundation that year.

It was 62 times the $1.6 billion Warren Buffett donated to the Gates Foundation.

It was twice the total amount donated by ALL foundations and corporations combined in 2010.

You’ve probably heard about the Giving Pledge being pursued by the Gates’ and Warren Buffett that enlists billionaires to pledge to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes or at the time of their deaths. If successful, the Giving Pledge would generate a total of $600 billion in donations over time.

Non-wealthy donors give that amount approximately every six years.

Perhaps the most notable (and noble) reason the philanthropy of everyday donors deserves more attention is that it is the only source of giving that has remained steady or increased over the past 3 years since the recession began.

With passion and ingenuity, you are creating new ways to aggregate your affordable donations to do amazing work in the U.S. and around the world. In just one example, many of you are giving online through websites that use the “crowdfunding” concept, which allows donors to contribute to projects featured on their sites, thus leveling the playing field for smaller, start-up projects and everyday donors who want to make a clear and immediate impact. It’s an exciting development in the philanthropic world of the 21st century!

So, donors of modest means rejoice! Your giving is the bedrock of the nonprofit sector. You are already doing a lot. Keep it up.

In the meantime, imagine the additional impact you could have by making just a few more affordable donations over the upcoming year. A few skipped cups of designer coffee, a packed lunch rather than the daily restaurant run, an at-home movie rental rather than the theater and you could do even more serious good.


Join the movement to spread the truth about giving!





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