A friend e-mailed me a link to Sheryl Sandberg's essay that appeared in The Wall Street Journal recently ("The Charity Gap," page A15, April 4, 2007).
Sandberg's findings stood over against what most of us believe about American charitable commitments and concerns.
Whenever American donors are asked, we report back the belief that most of our donations go to assist those less fortunate than ourselves--right?
However, the facts of our giving tell a very different story.
Sandberg's report cites a study underwritten by Google.org that reveals less than one-third of the money individuals gave to nonprofits in 2005 went to help the economically disadvantaged.
"The analysis, carried out by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, concluded that only 8% of donations provide food, shelter or other basic necessities. At most, an additional 23% is directed to the poor -- either providing other direct benefits (such as medical treatment and scholarships) or through initiatives creating opportunity and empowerment (such as literacy and job training programs). It's just not true, in other words, that the major beneficiaries of charity and philanthropy are the disadvantaged," Sandberg reports.
Among wealthy donors the gap affecting the very poor is even wider.
Those earning more than $1 million per year give only 4% of their donations for basic needs and an additional 19% to other programs geared toward the poor, even though they also report when asked that most of their donations go to assist the poor.
Why does this matter?
The role of individuals in American philanthropy is often misunderstood. Individuals give more than four times as much as foundations and corporations taken together.
Here's an amazing fact, according to Sandberg's report: fewer than 10,000 American families contribute more than 20% of all donations.
Sandberg provides some interesting analysis as to reasons behind these trends.
I found her comments on church giving to be instructive, but not so surprising.
When I drop my check into the offering plate on Sunday morning, I may have in mind my congregation's outreach to the homeless, but the fact is less than 20% (in most churches far less) of every dollar given in church benefits the poor in my community or anywhere in the world. For individuals and families earning below $100,000, church giving accounts for the majority of gifts offered up.
Really wealthy donors target education and health care in their giving. Sadly, less than 9% of these dollars go for scholarships to low-income students and only about 10% supports health care initiatives for the poor.
Sandberg concludes, "As Americans consider their 1040s this year, they need to ask if there is a disconnect between their desires and their actions. Many will find, perhaps to their surprise, that what they want to do is not, in deed, what they're doing. If so, they should start looking deeper into how their donations benefit those whose economic fortunes are dramatically different from their own."
[Ms. Sandberg is vice president of global online sales & operations at Google Inc. and a board member of Google.org.
Read the entire article at: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB117565580732059314-lMyQjAxMDE3NzA1NDYwNTQ1Wj.html.]
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