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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Giving

Change of heart

September 11 has turned US from culture of buyers to one of givers

By David M. Shribman, Globe Staff, 11/18/2001

    Internet surge
Since Sept. 11, charitable donations have been pouring in over the Internet. But will online giving have a sustained impact on nonprofits?

Keeping faith
A unique mission to join secular foundations with black churches is boosting services to some of Boston's poorest neighborhoods.

Market pressures
Endowments are having one of their worst investment years in a decade. Here's how people responsible for investing the money are managing.

Guidance for giving
The tremendous creation of wealth that occured during the 1990s has many individuals seeking guidance for how they give.

Education collaboration
How the Boston public schools and the local business community finally got working together.

The new Boston
It's not always easy to get residents who work in Boston and identify themselves with the city to abandon their longtime patterns of giving.

Corporate outsourcing
Donor-advised funds have become wildly popular with individuals over the last decade. Now some companies are trying them, too.

The nonprofit 100
A ranking of the top Massachusetts nonprofits by public support, revenue, expenses, and assets.

Long ago - say, a little more than two months ago - we worried about other things, like what was on the racks at the mall. Ours was, on the surface at least, a consumer culture. We bought a lot of stuff, whether we needed it or not, whether we could afford it or not.

Now we're not quite the same. We're not buying as much, which is bad for the economy, but we are giving money away like mad, which is good for the soul - and for the victims of tragedy.

In a remarkable three-week period following the twin terror terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Americans contributed more than $757 million to charitable organizations working on relief efforts. More than a third of that went to the American Red Cross alone, much of it contributed online.

In the wake of the terrorists' deeds, we have a new outlook:

We give, therefore we are.

We have given in large amounts (125 companies each pledged $1 million dollars or more just after the attacks) and in small amounts (in lemonade benefit sales across the country, almost no one is asking for change from their dollar - or from their twenty).

We have given to relief funds and to the firefighters' families and to the September 11th Fund created by the New York Community Trust and the United Way and to small charities everywhere, some operating without federal tax-deductible status.

We have given so much that established charities have begun to worry, in some cases without reason, that their own causes may be hurt in the rush to help the victims of the terrorist attacks.

''It looks to us that people have a new consciousness bout giving and helping others, and it may not happen only this year but next year, too,'' said Eugene R. Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Last year, according to the American Association of Fundraising Counsels, Americans gave more than $200 billion to charity. And so even if charities revolving around various Sept. 11 causes end up attracting $2 billion, that will account for only about 1 percent of American giving - not enough to make a substantial dent in other charities' revenues.

''Charity is not a zero-sum game,'' US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, said at this autumn's annual fund-raising dinner for the Spina Bifada Association of America, where receipts were double last year's level. ''We need not hurt one when we help the other.''

Americans are proving that.

''A lot of people who don't ordinarily do so are digging into their pockets,'' said Thomas A. Riley, director of research at the Philanthropy Roundtable, a national association of charitible donors. ''Some foundations and corporations are saying they will make extraordinary donations - donations on top of what they already give.''

Now, many experts believe the biggest threat to American largesse isn't the diversion of dollars to terrorism-related causes, but general economic conditions.

''Giving and the economy move in the same direction,'' said Riley. ''When people are feeling flush, they give more. But there is a lag time. Even if the economy goes down, people will still give.''

Indeed, the needs that existed before Sept. 11 still exist.

And some experts believe charitable contributions, which grew 10.8 percent between 1998 and 1999 and 6.6 percent the following year, may grow by at least 10 percent between 2000 and 2001 - despite the economic distress.

''It will be heavy into social services and disaster relief,'' said George C. Tuotolo Jr., who runs a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations and heads the board of the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy. ''But there are more young people giving to charity than ever before. They have been touched by the Sept. 11 calamity. People get more philanthropic as they get older, and so these people may be getting a head start.''

Why do people give, anyway?

Because they need to feel a part of something, such as the effort to comfort the wounded and the grieving in New York, Washington, and elsewhere. Because they identify with the mission or the cause being promoted by a charitable organization or educational institution. Or because they want to enhance their own image among their colleagues or in their communities.

''There are people who want to be seen differently by their peers,'' said Tempel, executive director of the Indiana philanthropy center. ''Corporations try to enhance the community around them, of course, but also to help sell more products and bolster their images. There is evidence people have a preference for dealing with businesses that are seen as being good corporate citizens.''

For whatever reason, Americans give.

They give at the office, which is not the dodge the comedy writers think it is.

They give at home, where charity begins.

They give at community centers and homeless shelters and during alumni drives and in churches, hospitals, and street corners where someone passes the hat for red poppies of remembrance, or passes the plate for the weekly collection, or, in a poignant reminder of the greatest act of giving the nation has seen in generations, passes a fireman's boot. No one needs to say what that means.

And, history shows, they will give more and more.

A study undertaken by the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed that, in many cases, giving in the year following a crisis actually increased. This was true in the cases of Pearl Harbor, the beginning of the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US bombing of Cambodia in the Vietnam era, the Gulf War, the resignation of President Nixon, the Arab oil embargo, and the 1987 financial downturn.

When life and history take its toll, we give.

And give. And keep on giving.

This story ran on page F1 of the Boston Globe on 11/18/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.