2017 might be remembered as a rough year for many people, but it also will be remembered as one of the most generous years as well.
Americans gave a record $410.8 billion in 2017 to charities across the country which was the first time that number had ever gone past the $400 billion mark according to Giving USA. And although a good chunk of the money comes from foundations per usual, according to their annual report on philanthropy, more and more individuals are donating money to causes. They estimated that in 2017 almost 70 percent of charitable giving was done by individuals.
“I think people are just more giving because it’s been a rough year,” says Marie Laurent of Logan Square who is a frequent donor to The Northern Illinois Food Bank. “I donate now when I can. I mean, I’m done with college, I have a good job so why not give a little?”
Giving Tuesday has become one of the most popular days of the year for giving to charities. Designated to the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, this unofficial holiday was launched in 2012 as a way to combat the excessive spending of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And the number of donations on that day are slowly rising.
The rise in donations for Americans could be linked to the rise in the economy but there has also been a steady push on social media to raise awareness of the act of giving. The hashtag #MyGivingStory is now also used on social media that day to encourage those who donate to share not only where they give but why. According to the Giving Tuesday Data Project, the top five issues discussed were public and societal benefit, human services, education, health, and environment and animals.
Although only about 18 percent of consumers know about Giving Tuesday, search trends on Google show that the awareness is increasing with each year. Awareness of this new holiday continues to increase and in 2017 a whopping $300 million in donations was given on that day with average gift size of about $120. Researchers estimate revenue for Giving Tuesday in 2018 (which was November 28th this year) will be close to $363 million.
However, people’s generosity is no longer limited to just monetary donations. More and more people are taking their frustrations with the current political climate in the country and finding a useful outlet. Laurent, who also volunteers to mentor a few hours once a week, says that this past year has driven her to be more generous with her time.
“We’ve all kind of felt pretty frustrated,” she said. “So I guess giving back makes us feel like we’re doing something about it.”
As of last year, 77.4 million Americans volunteered and gave a total of 6.9 billion hours. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.6 percent of women spent at least 2 hours volunteering in the last year and 4.6 percent of men volunteer as well.
In the U.S, Minneapolis-St. Paul leads the cities ranking with 46.3 percent of their population reporting that they volunteer in some way. And for the States, Utah has the most volunteers with 51 percent of its population volunteering.
Midtown Educational Foundation, a Chicago non profit, relies on their volunteers as well as donations to keep their programs running. At their Metro Achievement Center for Girls in Greektown, volunteers can spend two hours once a week helping inner-city girls from ages 8 to 18 achieve academic and personal goals.
“Our volunteers are really what make our programs be as effective as they are,” says Tracy Eshedagho, the Director of the 7th & 8th grade program at Metro Achievement Center.
In Illinois 2.8 million volunteers contributed 206.5 million hours of service in 2017. And a little over 24 percent of those volunteers gave their time to mentoring the youth of Illinois making it the fourth most popular way to volunteer in the State. In Chicago, 25.6 percent of Chicagoans volunteer their time in some way.
“A lot of our volunteers mention in their entrance interview that they feel the need to give back to their community.” notes Eshedagho. “Most of them say that [volunteering] is a much better option than just sitting around watching T.V.”
Lucia Bower of Noble Square, a current volunteer mentor at Metro Achievement Center, cites the growing consciousness of women’s issues and the need to support younger girls as her motivation for volunteering two hours of her week to mentoring inner city girls.
“All young girls are told that their ideas are silly and they are often dismissed,” says Bower. Volunteering at Metro Achievement Center has given her a chance to let middle school girls that she mentors know that not only are their likes and ideas not silly but that someone wants to hear them. And with all the mixed messages from the media, Bower knows that young girls need this support more than ever.
“If this helps the girls reclaim their worth,” says Bower, “Then [mentoring] the few hours of my week is worth it.”