Category Archives: giving

American Grace co-author David Campbell on religion and giving



David Campbell (Co-Author of American Grace) has a piece in on the link between religion and giving.


Over the last twenty years, one of the most stunning changes to the American social landscape has been the dramatic rise in the percentage of Americans who report having no religious affiliation—the group that has come to be known as the “nones.” Today, 20 percent of Americans disclaim a religious affiliation,and among millennials, it is over 30 percent. At the same time, there has been a growing debate over whether the secularization of society will lead to a decrease in charitable giving, with secularists—whether they consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or humanists—tending to argue that fewer religious Americans will simply mean fewer contributions to pay for churches and synagogues that fewer Americans are attending anyway.

Not exactly. A new report by Jumpstart and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy details the many ways that religion and the charitable sector are intertwined. Based on a major national survey, this report finds that three-quarters of all household charitable giving goes to organizations that have religious ties. These span the range from large organizations like the Salvation Army (which, many Americans do not realize, is actually a church) to small soup kitchens run out of church basements.

Read the rest of David Campbell’s “Religious People are More Charitable” (, 11/26/13)

Health benefits of volunteering

The NY Times had an interesting piece yesterday on the health benefits of volunteering.

They cite Stephen Post’s work, which I have discussed earlier, but also notes a 2002 Boston College study (Paul Arnstein et al.) and a California Buck Institute for Age Research study (Doug Oman et al.).

The article discusses several studies that suggest that the causal pathway may run through lower stress and a “helper’s high”.

See the underlying article:  “In Month of Giving, a Healthy Reward” (NYT, Science Times, Tara Parker-Pope, 12/1/09)

The economy, the holidays, giving and social capital

Give reconciliation a chance  (photo by araleya)

Give reconciliation a chance (photo by araleya)

I heard recently of one school teacher reminding children that many parents are currently out of work.  The teacher asked her pupils to think of one gift that they got that they never used and one gift that they could give or ask for that doesn’t require any money. Then she asked the students to think about the economy and the fact that it is often hard to know whether parents are in good or bad financial shape in forming their holiday “wish lists.”  I learned of a mother that sometimes gives her children a birthday or Christmas “get out of jail card”.  It’s a card that has no expiration date and can be used once by her children to escape punishment/consequences on “non-federal offenses.”

I welcome thoughts from readers of “social-capital friendly” ideas for these financially stressed holidays.  Here are some starter ideas:

– Making gifts with others to share

Giving Circles: where each person contributes a small amount of money and the group decides how to collectively use the money for good.

– Group volunteering projects for others inside or outside your community.

– Potluck holiday parties

– Finding an opportunity to do something nice to former friends with whom you have had a falling out or people with whom you are not now on speaking terms.  Give reconciliation a chance.

– And it’s not about finding financial alternatives to giving, but Changing the Present has a nice list of gifts one can give to help others.

Note: Caribbean Girl has a nice simpatico post talking about how “the long walk” is a more important part of holiday gift-giving than money.  Excerpts of her post (of relevance regardless of one’s religious beliefs):

An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas day. “The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other,” she said.

When Christmas day came, the boy brought to the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. “Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?” the teacher asked as she gently fingered the gift.

The youth told her there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found…a certain bay several miles away. [T]he teacher was left speechless.

“Why…why, it’s gorgeous…wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me.”

His eyes brightening, the boy answered, “Long walk part of gift.”…

While they [the magic] gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh…, they also gave another gift…a long walk. We don’t know how far the magi traveled, but we do know it took months, perhaps years, for them to reach their destination. Their long walk was part of the gift.

We ought to think about what we can give these holidays where “the long walk” (our efforts and care for another) shows our love more than what we spend.

Civic Petals Unfolding from the Ashes of 9-11

Alexandra Marks of the Christian Science Monitor reports on one group’s efforts ( to turn September 11 into an outpouring of good deeds for fellow Americans.  They have shown impressive growth (over 250,000 Americans pledged to do good deeds on 9-11-07) and if they find a way of knitting this into something throughout the year rather than a 1-day affair, they could be part of sparking a civic renaissance. 

We hope they succeed as it is a great opportunity to honor the countless acts of heroism of fellow citizens on September 11, sometimes for their colleagues and sometimes for complete strangers.  This heroism and concern for others is a key part of what makes America great.

Here are clips from Alexandra’s story:

“In 9/11 remembrance, a turning to good deeds: President Bush for the first time this year included a call for volunteering in his annual 9/11 proclamation. ” (Alexandra Marks, The Christian Science Monitor, 9/10/07)

“On Sept. 11, Jacob Sundberg of San Antonio has pledged to make eye contact and smile at everyone he meets. Kaitlin Ulrich will bring goody baskets to the police and fire departments in and around Philadelphia.  And 100 volunteers from New York – 9/11 firefighters and family members among them – are going to Groesbeck, Texas, to rebuild a house destroyed by a tornado last December.

“This is a minute sampling of the hundreds of thousands of people who have pledged to memorialize those killed on 9/11 by doing something good for others.

“The heroic acts of all those killed trying to save others that September morning has spawned a growing grass-roots movement. The goal is to ensure that future generations remember not just the horror of the attacks, but also the extraordinary outpouring of humanity during the days, weeks, and months that followed.

” ‘It was the worst possible day imaginable, and in some ways, a remarkable day, too, in the way in which people responded,’ says David Paine, cofounder of ‘We need to rekindle the way we came together in the spirit of 9/11: It would be almost as much a tragedy to lose that lesson.’

“Sept. 11 has inspired dozens of philanthropic efforts – from groups dedicated to building memorials to foundations designed to improve education in the Middle East. But myGoodDeed has a more universal goal: to turn 9/11 into a day dedicated to doing good – from small, simple things like Lisa Scheive’s pledge to help stranded turtles cross the road in Pompano Beach, Fla., to lifesaving efforts, such as John Feal’s decision in New York to donate one of his kidneys to help a seriously ill 9/11 worker.

“The idea has been endorsed by members of Congress, and at myGoodDeed’s urging, President Bush for the first time this year included a call for volunteering in his annual 9/11 proclamation.

“After major disasters, Americans have historically tapped a deep reserve of compassion and reached out to others. But in the months and years that follow, those compassionate and civic urges tend to recede. Studies at Harvard’s Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America found that in as few as five months after 9/11, most Americans had gone back to their daily lives and were not more engaged as they said they’d hoped to be. Part of the goal of turning 9/11 into a national day of service is to remind Americans of the inherent joy of giving and to hopefully spur volunteering and charitable acts throughout the year.

” ‘I don’t know of any research that’s been done on one day of service, but studies have shown that people who do volunteering in high school are more likely to volunteer throughout their lives,’ says Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar.”

[Article goes on to highlight the impetus for forming from the heroism of volunteer fireman/lawyer Glenn Winuk who grabbed his medic bag and ran towards the smoke streaming from the World Trade Center.  His body was later found among the ashes.  His brother Jay Winuk launched MyGoodDeed.  It started in 2002 with a few individuals doing an act of goodness on 9/11/02 like donating a day’s pay and then snowballed from there. The article highlights some sample volunteer projects like a New Jersey food drive, an Atlantan woman who now gives more personal philanthropy (less to organizations and more to needy individuals she knows) and how the giving has changed her, and an Anchorage bike-a-thon.]

Full story here.

NYT: “Hostile outlook may affect breathing”: social capital responsible?

“Hostile Outlook May Affect Breathing, Research Shows” (NYT Science Times, 6/19/07)

While the NY Times doesn’t label social capital a potential culprit to explain the relationship between more difficult breathing and hostility, alternative research has highlighted the relationship between issues like charitable giving or trust and pleasure sensors in the brain, and substantiated that there is a link between socializing and the reduction in our stress levels.  Makes one wonder whether in the same way that dreams and sleep play a critical role in cementing in learning and recharging our systems, whether things like socializing, giving and trust might also be a resetting and calming tonic for the system that prevent or reduce issues like breathing problems which might come from an accumulation of these stressors.

NYT article here, excerpts and summary follow:

“Having a hostile attitude may affect your breathing, a new study reports.

“Using a sample of 4,629 healthy adults ages 18 to 30, researchers determined hostility using a 50-item questionnaire and then administered breathing tests to record objective measures of breathing efficiency and lung capacity. The study appears in the May issue of Health Psychology.”

[The study controlled for age, height, socioeconomic status, smoking and asthma.]  For reasons not explained the low lung function was consistently found among hostile black men and women and in hostile white women. They didn’t find a statistically significant lung function decline in hostile white men.

The authors speculated that it could be environmental factors or even that low lung performance triggered hostility.

Donate, then smoke a cigarette?

The Freakonomics blog reports on research of Univ. of Oregon economics professor William Harbaugh and psychology professor Ulrich Mayr that found that “giving to charity can directly stimulate pleasure sensors in the brain.” This parallels some of the research that has come out on the relationship between trust and pleasure sensors as well (oxytocin).