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September 19, 1990

How Generosity Moves

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Think of it this way: generosity is like a substance that is meant to fill the empty spaces created by the needs in the world. This “substance” comes from a source, flows along a channel of some kind, and hopefully arrives at its intended destination. The business of generosity encompasses everything that is required to get generosity to flow to where it’s needed.
As we’ve said, generosity is more than just money. It’s also gifts-in-kind, volunteerism, and so on. But money is a big part of it, and money serves as a more convenient metric than anything else. By following the money, we see at once that there are givers and there are receivers making up the generosity economy.
In a recent Giving USA report, researchers tracked the money coming and going, and it looks like th is.

Money from…

Individuals: 72%
Foundations: 15%
Bequests: 7%
Corporations: 6%

Money to…

Religion: 32%
Education: 13%
Human services: 13%
Foundations: 10%
Health: 9%
Public society benefit: 7%
International affairs: 6%
Arts, culture, and humanities: 5%
Environment/animals: 3%
Unallocated: 2%
Individuals: 1%

As mentioned in Chapter 1, in the United States financial giving by individuals and organizations totals approximately $300 billion per year, which is equal to 2 percent of the gross domestic product. Americans volunteered their time in an amount roughly equal to $171 billion.
Most of the money and volunteer efforts that Americans give passes through a vast array of religious congregations (more than 300,000) and other not-for-profit organizations (around 1 million) on the way to the people who need the generosity. If you’re like most people, you may occasionally hand over some cash to a panhandler on the street (the shortest possible flow of generosity), but you direct most of your charitable giving to NFPs such as your local rescue mission, the Sierra Club, the American Heart Association, or whatever other group is doing work you want to get behind. These organizations have expertise in getting generosity where it ultimately needs to go.
Givers and receivers. It can all seem so neat and orderly, hardened into accepted patterns. Actually, the situation is anything but orderly and unchanging. The business of generosity, in fact, is in a ferment. Today, generosity is springing up from new places, and flowing in new ways, more than it ever has.

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