Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Charitable giving rebounds, still below 2007 levels

Charity is part of the character of our nation.

The economy is recovering, the stock market is rising, and people can feel a little more generous as the year comes to an end. Think of charities in the next few days.

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation reports that giving is up this year, almost back to pre-recession levels. Shirlee Tully, a development officer at the foundation, says giving is “cautiously approaching averages before the recession.”

Nationally, Charity Navigator estimates that at the current pace, giving will not rebound to pre-recession levels until 2018. But we’re getting there. The bright stars of giving in our region have been for the arts and scholarships for education, both up considerably from last year.

The region’s first-ever Arts Day of Giving generated more than $500,000 in one day, April 29, from 3,460 donors for 78 arts and cultural organizations in the Sacramento region. Thirty percent of the donors were new givers; 60 percent of the donations were $50 or less. All received a match. That expands the philanthropic base for the arts in our region. The boost is much-needed as theater, opera and the ballet have struggled.

During the Great Recession, the arts suffered as people made giving to food banks and other human services for the needy a bigger priority in their giving. While arts and education giving rebounds, charities that help the needy need help, too.

Garren Bratcher of Loaves & Fishes, which feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless, reports that giving has stayed about the same this year. The charity is seeing more transitional use of services, the sign of a recovering economy. But, he notes, we still have pockets of great need.

Foster children become young adults, but were never reunited with their families or adopted. Many of them end up falling into homelessness.

“They have no one to lead them,” says Bratcher, “no one to guide them like I’ve guided my sons.”

Bratcher says Loaves & Fishes still sees entire families with young children. Bratcher says they can get a roof over their heads, basic necessities and, at this season of the year, people are generous with giving toys, clothing and other items. But these young families, like foster kids, “need not just Christmas gifts and a tree; they need some guidance.”

Gifts of time, such as mentoring, and of funds to organizations that can provide guidance help. A money donation helps an organization buy in bulk.

In these last few days of the year, people have good hearts and want to be generous. Rather than randomly sprinkling around donations here and there, Tully recommends “strategic, purposeful giving.” Check out organizations at guidestar.org before donating. Con artists are out at the end of the year, too.

On the street, be savvy. If someone asks for money, give food rather than cash. Make sure people soliciting at tables outside stores are on the up-and-up.

“People should be aware that very few legitimate organization solicit funds in front of stores, and those are very reputable and well known, like the Salvation Army,” Bratcher says. “If you've never heard of them, they are probably fake.”

At this time of still-fragile recovery, Americans top the World Giving Index 2013 once again. Helping strangers is more common here than in any other country in the world.

We understand that we help ourselves when we help someone in need.