The Landscape of American Generosity. SOCIAL STATUS AND REGIONAL PATTERNS

the previous chapter presented a somewhat dismal picture of American generosity, with relatively few Americans participating in each form of generosity. Of those Americans who do give, we found that many are lightly involved in giving their resources to others and only a few are heavily involved. This chapter focuses on who gives. To do this, we zoom out from the frame-by-frame snapshots and survey the overall landscape of American generosity with a wide-angle lens. This view lends itself toward the “glass half-full” perspective because when we consider the landscape of generosity, we see that Americans are generally quite active in working to help others, expressed through one form of giving or another. To assess who gives we consider the role of social status and pay particular attention to regional variation.

Big 3 Giving

The vast majority of Americans, 90 percent, have recently participated in at least some form of generosity, and the majority have given via at least one of the Big 3 forms: giving money, volunteering, or taking political action for charitable causes. To illustrate this, Figure 2.1 shows combined participation in those three ways of giving:

  • • Sixty-six percent of Americans participate in Big 3 generosity (and, in many cases, also participate in other forms of generosity).
  • • Twenty-four percent of Americans practice forms of generosity besides the Big 3.
The Big 3 of American generosity

figure 2.1 The Big 3 of American generosity.

• Only 10 percent of Americans report not participating in any of these nine forms.1

Thus while the picture of any one form of generosity is somewhat dim, the overall landscape of generosity is relatively bright. Given the dominance of the Big 3 forms of giving among Americans, we focus primarily on these forms for the remainder of the book.

Our findings highlight the prominent place of monetary giving over other forms (see Figure 2.2). Of the 66 percent of Americans who participate in Big 3 giving:

  • • Seventy-four percent practice a combination of forms that involves financial donations (i.e. money only, money and volunteering, money and political action, or all three).
  • • Sixteen percent participate only in nonmonetary ways (e.g. volunteering only, political action only, or both).

For the vast majority of Big 3 givers, then, donating money holds some place in their portfolio of giving. It may not be the highest or the most important form of generosity to the giver, but it is commonly done and often combined with some other giving expression. We focus on financial giving since it is the most widely practiced form of giving, though we will situate it within the broader context Americans’ giving portfolios.

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