Since the beginning of America, we have been a giving people. Starting with the Pilgrims in 1630, as is noted in US News & World Report, neighbors relied on each other to survive the harsh winters. The settlers raised each other's barns, hosted quilting bees for the community and built common areas in their towns. Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous American Founding Fathers is also known as the Founding Father of American volunteerism in the late 1700's. He gathered volunteers to sweep the streets of Philadelphia, organized the nation's first volunteer fire department, established a voluntary militia and organized a philosophical society. His philosophy was "individuals working together, uncoerced, for the common good". In the 1830's, two groups who felt their lack of power - women, who had no right to vote, and the clergy, whose political authority was weakened by the constitutional separation of church and state - formed benevolent societies to focus on issues they felt hurt our society. These groups addressed slavery, cruelty, drinking, illiteracy and more. And it continues to the modern day with the forming of the Red Cross, local libraries, community parks, defeating Polio with the March of Dimes, and Paul Newman's Foundation donating $300 Million of profits to his Hole in the Wall camps for kids with serious diseases and helping the nonprofit Feeding America. Volunteers over the last few American centuries are really our change makers.
Many of us participate in charity in some form. It can be as simple as taking cookies to an aging neighbor or donating items you no longer use to a good cause. The Corporation for National & Community Service reports that 64.3 Million Americans volunteered in a formal organization, an increase of 1.5 million from the year before. This is 26.8% of the population giving 7.9 Billion hours which has a value of $171 Billion. The 4 most popular service activities were: fundraising or selling items to raise money (26.2%); collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food (23.6%); engaging in general labor or transportation (20.3%); and tutoring or teaching (18.2%). One in three volunteers is a senior age 55 and older, giving this group a lifetime of experience to tap into to help those in the greatest need.
According to the World Giving Index for 2012, the USA is the fifth most charitable nation. Australia is first, followed by Ireland, Canada and New Zealand. This index measures the % of the population that donates money, volunteers their time and helps a stranger. We in the USA like to be #1 at everything, so it is surprising that we don't even finish in the top 3! Is it because we have lost the passion of our forefathers or are we just too selfish to help others because the "me" generation stretches from birth to death?
This country has been so successful because it reaches out to others through immigration; government sponsored help like social security, head start and food stamps (supplemental nutrition assistance program); and non-profit organizations who coordinate projects from feeding the poor to aiding the homeless to providing for the sick. More of us have volunteered this year than last year, but we are still not at the point where we lead the world in kindness.
2013 is the year we need to pull the charity gene out of our DNA and use it to help our fellow Americans. Our economic recovery is still quite tough and we are many years yet away from regaining where we were before this great recession. More people need the non-profits help now because the most recent hiccup by the government with the implementation of the sequestration once again effected those most in need. If you can't make the time to volunteer to help others, at least give some financial support. Online the Network for Good and the site Just Give are a good start to help non-profits needing our backing. On top of donating, go to DollarDays on our Facebook page and nominate your favorite organization; where we are giving away $5,000 in products in June to help non-profits support their causes.
More than 200 years ago, Ben Franklin felt that the average citizen must share in a commitment to the greater good of their community and their country. Mr. Franklin believed that "one served not to save their soul, but to build a strong society". In our modern day society, volunteering still forms the core of the American character. It is who we are and how we pass on freedom and caring to the next generation. Maybe that is one reason that seniors volunteer at a higher rate than our children. The experience of life that seniors finally learn after all those years is each day is so precious and we should not waste it just on ourselves. Now if we can teach the younger generations to care more about others, perhaps we can become the #1 most charitable nation, just like our forefathers...