Americans give more to charity as a percentage of GDP than their counterparts in many other major industrial countries, but advocates would like to push this rate higher.
Giving has hovered around 2% for the past 40 years, with the occasional up or down blip, according to a recent analysis in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
In 2012, American donors contributed some $316 billion, 2% of the country’s GDP, unchanged from the previous year, according to the annual Giving USA report.
“We’re stuck” at the 2% rate, John List, head of the University of Chicago’s Science of Philanthropy Initiative,” told The Chronicle.
“There’s a lot of money on the charity sidelines, and the charitable community needs to build a better mousetrap.”
But Paul Schervish at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy argued that the GDP share reflected only donations to nonprofit groups and not informal types of giving, such as contributions to political groups.
Still, advocates try to get donors to dig deeper in their pockets, according to The Chronicle. Adam Meyerson, president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, for example, proposes a “3% solution.” The extra money would provide a philanthropic alternative to failed or distressed government programs.
Others argue that wealthy people, who are already the biggest donors, have an ethical obligation to increase their giving — and can do so without materially affecting their lifestyle.
But the Chronicle analysis noted that organized initiatives to get people to be more generous have foundered. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Independent Sector mounted an aggressive ad campaign urging Americans to increase their giving to 5% of gross income from an average of about 2%.