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Op-Ed: Individual Donors — the Engine that Drives American Charity

Experience shows that when all sources are factored in, the total from individual donors actually accounts for close to 90 percent of all charitable giving

david munshine
David Munshine

What difference can one person really make? Each of us has the ability to help make the world a better place, and new numbers show what we can do together. On the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, helping those in need is on the minds of many, especially people in New Jersey who lived through the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

Many reports take the pulse of philanthropy in the United States, but only one can lay claim to being the longest-running, most comprehensive study. It’s “Giving USA,” a collaborative effort of the Giving USA Foundation, a public service initiative of the Giving Institute, and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

If you think of “Giving USA 2017” as a kind of state of the union for philanthropy, it's fair to say that the state of the union is strong. Last year, charitable giving in this country totaled a record $390 billion. And the big news behind the big headline number? It's the unparalleled impact of individual donors, who accounted for nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of total contributions in America, as giving by individuals reached an all-time high of almost $282 billion. As impressive as that is, experience shows us that when you consider gifts from family foundations and bequests, the total from individual donors actually accounts for close to 90 percent of all charitable giving.

Here in New Jersey, there are more than 30,000 registered 501(c)(3) charitable organizations working to improve the lives of people in the Garden State and beyond. These organizations aren't just a feel-good story. They are fundamental to our state's economy.

The Center for Non-Profits reports these organizations employ about 314,000 people, almost 10 percent of New Jersey's private-sector workforce, and more industries including construction, utilities, transportation, finance, and insurance. At the same time, the center says more than 1.6 million people volunteer at New Jersey nonprofits every year, contributing some 225 million hours of service with a value that tops $5.3 billion.

Still, many of these New Jersey organizations carrying out vital missions are facing serious financial struggles.  In its annual report, the Center for Non-Profits found while 75 percent of the state's charities are seeing a rise in demand for their services, most say financial uncertainty is the greatest challenge to the survival of their organization.

That's where donors — especially individual donors — come in. As these latest reports show, everyone involved with nonprofits owes a deep debt of gratitude to the generous people of this state and country. But there is always more to be done.

So what difference can you really make? Whether it's contributing in your own town or helping someone you will never meet, the answer is clear. You can make a world of difference.

David Munshine is the president and chief executive officer of The Munshine Group, a Springfield firm that works with nonprofit organizations to support them with their fundraising and other needs. He is a member of the board of trustees of the Camp Nejeda Foundation in Stillwater.  Camp Nejeda enhances the lives of people with type 1 diabetes and their families through education, empowerment, camaraderie, support programs, and fun.

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