The season for giving

Published December 6, 2019

By Tom Campbell

Were you among the crowds rushing to stores for bargains on Black Friday or did you wait for Small Business Saturday? Perhaps you joined those spending a record $9.4 billion on Cyber Monday. As exciting as these days might have been, let us suggest the most important day was Tuesday - Giving Tuesday.

Started in 2012, this is the day designated for people to give their money or time to worthwhile charitable endeavors. An informal survey of North Carolina churches and charitable organizations indicates non-profits have greater needs this year than in any since the Great Recession. Many folks in upper income brackets are enjoying this economy, but a July Federal Reserve Board report shows 4 in 10 households would have to borrow money to pay an unexpected $400 bill. 17 percent of those earning $100,000 per year or more say they would find it hard.

At the same instant people’s needs are increasing, not-for-profit charities are encountering declines in donations. Marketwatch, the Dow Jones subsidiary, says taxpayers reported $54 billion less in charitable giving on 2019 tax returns (as of May of this year) than they did in the same period of 2018. The biggest reason for this abrupt drop is the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which doubled the standard deduction for taxpayers and removed the tax advantage for many to itemize charitable contributions. According to Giving USA that amounted to a 1.7 percent decline in the estimated $427 billion given in 2018. 

We like to say Christmas is the season for giving, for being generous. But is it? Dr. Patricia Herzog, professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University, reports that in a typical year 45 percent of Americans don’t give a single dollar and 75 percent spend no time volunteering.  We believe all charitable donations should be tax deductible, but it does beg the question whether a tax advantage is the principle reason we give? 

We hope not. Many say they can’t afford to give; some even question whether charitable organizations are honest and efficient, but these are mostly excuses. To be sure there are constraints at all stages of life and there is no magical time when you are suddenly able to give. A serious examination can determine trustworthy charities from those that aren’t. If you truly can’t give money, an even greater gift is your time. No matter how busy you might be there is a genuine reward to giving. 

It is commonly said that charity begins at home, but let’s rephrase that to say that charity and generosity are learned at home - from our parents, our spouses and close friends. Herzog and her colleagues found that givers are happier and healthier and have a greater purpose in life. There is a joy to knowing that you have done something to help others. There are legions of stories where givers say their blessings (financial and otherwise) started flowing when they started giving.

You get the point. The need is great and there is no better time to share our gifts than this holiday season. 

Remember the letter written to the New York Sun many years ago? An eight-year old girl named Virginia wrote to ask if there were such a person as Santa Claus. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Lots of them, generously giving their time and money to others…and in so doing finding real joy and happiness. And not just on Giving Tuesday.