Minnesota is known for its generosity. We pride ourselves on our long-standing charitable traditions, but we’re now at risk of becoming a “has been generous” state, content to rest on its laurels.
It may be time to take a fresh look in the mirror. Recent facts suggest that our beliefs about who we are may not match reality. According to the latest “How America Gives” issue of “The Chronicle of Philanthropy,” Minnesota has dropped to number 34 out of all the states in generosity.
In 1997, Twin Cities residents gave 8.5 percent of their discretionary income to charity. In 2008, this dropped to 4.2 percent — less than half of what it was before. Utah, in contrast at 10.6 percent, ranks number one in both giving and volunteering, with Mormon tithing a factor, demonstrating the impact of religious tradition.
Some say one of the biggest issues with local giving may simply be the sense of complacency among donors. Granted, the economic woes of the past few years have taken a toll. But the belief that we are already high-minded and magnanimous and that the big traditional foundations or the well-known wealthy have it covered, is a force against inspiring people to be active contributors to charitable organizations.
Being the kind of state we really want to be means asking some hard questions. Is Minnesota really as livable and as desirable a locale as we’d like to think? Are our levels of volunteerism and education still as high? Is our level of income/racial disparity as low as it could be?
We have a tradition of embracing lofty, personal attributes: we are nice, generous, intelligent, welcoming, hard-working and community minded. But are we really?
Taking a closer look at who is giving (and why) is a revealing exercise that can help us get back on track. What lessons can Minnesota learn? For starters, don’t count on the rich to fund our necessary social endeavors. Studies show that wealthy people in rich enclaves do not necessarily give more; many lower-income people actually contribute a larger share of what they have. Areas with a lot of diversity, economic and otherwise, also tend to be more generous, in part because of a greater exposure to and understanding community needs.
While having an inspiring vision can be vital, giving is not all about an emotional affinity with an organization. Practical tax incentives are also very effective. Giving can cut across gender and generation. A recent Star Tribune story cited a survey by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute showing that older women give 89 percent more of their total income to charity than their male counterparts, defying the stereotypes of older women being “tight” with their money.
As we cast our eyes across our neighborhoods and our city, each of us needs to look for the cause that speaks to us — education, the arts, homelessness, mental health or whatever — and then step up and support organizations working on those causes.
In the end, it’s not necessarily how much you give, but the fact that each of us is supporting a cause. Only then can we fully realize those lofty attributes to which we aspire. And it all begins (as it always does) with you.
Tom Hoch is president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, the owner of the historic Orpheum, State, Pantages and New Century theatres and an independent nonprofit arts organization dedicated to arts-inspired community cultural development