Charitable donations inevitably follow the business cycle: when we are feeling flush and confident of future earnings, Americans want to share their bounty with those less fortunate. When those same folks are worried about their employment status or, worse, have lost their jobs, they still give, though not as much. Nevertheless, generosity still outperforms the general economy.
Most of us are attuned to the stock market as the the barometer of the state of the economy, even if we are not much invested in stocks. New information presented by USAToday‘s ‘Mind & Soul‘ section suggests we might also want to pay attention to charitable giving. If giving is a ‘leading indicator,’ 2011 might prove to be a pretty good year for the economy and for donations.
The peak of gross generosity from individuals came in 2007, and – not surprisingly – fell from there. Indeed, the same USAToday.com reported a month ago that charities expected this season’s giving to continue to be below hoped-for amounts. Nevertheless, the fall of individual giving was not nearly as precipitous as the fall in the economy overall.
Moreover, corporate giving, which peaked in 2005, was already back up in 2009 after three years of falling. And, as the data presented by USAToday demonstrates, the fall was not even close to bringing corporate giving back to 2004 amounts!
At the local (Baltimore-Washington) level, giving by corporations, by regional companies, and by local businesses, has been brisk, even in this economy. Steven Pearlson of The Washington Post has compiled a great list of local businesses who have given time and money over the long haul of the calendar year (and before – and hopefully beyond).
As is so often the case, the work of larger institutions or local businesses comes down to personal relationships fostered through communication and long-term awareness. To pick one of many of the heart-tugging stories Mr Pearlson relates, he spoke with Bob Henig of ‘‘, a motorcycle sales and parts dealership in Jessup, MD.
“I do it because it needs to be done, because it makes me feel good and because it brings out the best in so many other people,” [Bob] Henig told me.
Henig got hooked 18 years ago by a beautiful 9-year-old with a wig, Christina Higgs, who rode in his sidecar during his first Ride for Kids. And even now he still chokes up when he tells how Christina survived her tumor, graduated from college and is living with her husband in Massachusetts.
So perhaps if businesses have been growing more upbeat about giving back since 2009, perhaps they are looking for 2011 to be a year of economic growth, rehiring, and offering the solution for individual giving to rise to 2007 levels? With only a few more days left in 2010, here’s hoping…