America’s Giving Contradiction

As I sat down to write this post I intended to show how generous and charitable Americans are despite our negative brand around the word. I was watching the amazing response of Americans to the Haiti tragedy and was feeling pretty proud. I thought to myself, we get a bad rap for a country that seems to always rise to the occasion for others. As I got into the research, the wind was taken out of my sails. Unfortunately, like most things, they aren’t always what they seem.

Americans have been the most giving people in the world. We give over 1.67% of GDP to charity. That’s double any other country in the world. Go America!

Charitable Giving

After finding this, I was feeling pretty good. But as I dug a little deeper my pride began to take a little hit. We aren’t good givers to others.

During the horrible Asian Tsunami in 2005, U.S. individual or private giving amounted to over 400 million dollars. This was more than the 350 million our government donated. It was more than the citizens of any other country in the world. Unfortunately, when measured against GDP or per capita income, not so good. We gave the least in relation to what we have.

Our Government giving isn’t much better. We are at the bottom of the barrel.

Government giving

There are some fantastic stories of America’s generosity. We respond in times of crisis. This story of 5 million dollars being raised by the Red Cross via text messages is one of them. Americans respond when others are in need. It’s what we do. We give, in raw dollars, more to the rest of the world than anyone else. But what we don’t do is give as much as we have to those outside of the country.

I’m torn on what I’ve discovered. Part of me says shame on us, the other part says, I’m proud of the fact that we give more money than anyone else.

It all reminds me of an Easter movie I saw on T.V as a kid about Jesus. In the movie these rich men were putting lots of gold and silver into a donation bowl for the synagogue, when and old, weak and clearly poor woman walked up and placed a single bronze coin in the dish. The men starting laughing at her. They were making fun of how small her donation was, when Jesus walked up and said (of course I’m paraphrasing, it had to be 25 years ago when I saw this) “Why do you laugh? This single coin is everything this poor woman has, while you have given only a tiny fraction of your riches. She has given far, far, more than all of you”

My hypothesis when I sat down to write this post was that individual Americans were the most giving and responsive people to other peoples of the world and this fact is overlooked in the worlds disdain for us and our way of life. I was looking to tell a story of how we are quick to help the world during times of misery and crisis, yet are so vilified by so many. But, I couldn’t write that. It’s not true.

My hypothesis isn’t wrong, but I don’t think it’s right either. I’m VERY proud of our ability to respond to the pain and suffering of others around the world. America makes up the greatest portion of raw dollars given. We are empathetic, caring, loving and sensitive to the needs of others, but we are also the richest country in the world, and by that measure we are misers.

I’ll never forget the scene in that movie. I don’t think America should be the old woman. But I definitely don’t want us to be the rich old men either.

Generosity is measured not by how much you give, but by how much of what you HAVE that you give, and by this measure we have a long way to go.

This data was a complete surprise to me. I had a different view of our level of giving. Does it surprise you?

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