Study reveals a wealth of giving. Philanthropy doesn't require a trust fund, survey of givers finds
New York — Guadelupe Aleman volunteers time to the neighborhood group in her Hispanic community in Queens, because she knows what it's like to be a newcomer to this country. Juan Rosa, a nurse at the New York University Medical Center, does not volunteer time, because he is busy working to support his wife and daughter, both enrolled in college. Instead, he gives money to several charitable organizations.
Florence Kleinfeld, also of Queens, volunteers once a week at a center that helps immigrants. But she didn't volunteer for years because she was working full-time while she and her husband raised two sons. Now her children are grown and she puts in time once a week at the International Center.
These New Yorkers, who are far from wealthy, are typical American givers, according to a survey by the Gallup Organization. The study was commissioned by Independent Sector, an umbrella organization for the nation's philanthropic community.
Seven out of 10 American households give money to charitable organizations, and 45 percent of Americans volunteer their time to such work. Among all surveyed, 75 percent believe they should volunteer to help others, and 75 percent said it is an individual's responsibility to give what he or she can.
And in a finding not surprising to those who work in charitable organizations, the most generous givers (in relation to income) are poor and struggling, according to the survey.
``The most surprising and perplexing finding is that even among those who are non- or low-level givers, they hold the same values that motivate givers and volunteers,'' says Brian O'Connell, president of Independent Sector. ``It's clear that we haven't reached them.''
There are two factors surrounding the generosity of the poor.
``There is more need around them,'' says Mr. O'Connell. And, he says, there is much giving that goes to religious institutions in lower-income communities. Tim Carr does not have a full-time job, but he is earning some money handing out fliers on a midtown Manhattan corner. He spends two Sundays a month doing volunteer work at a church.
``I used to be homeless myself, and so I am giving something back,'' he says.
Ms. Aleman, who came to the United States from Honduras in 1975, says her neighborhood has many problems, and community voluntarism is important. Hispanos Unidos de Woodside (United Hispanics of Woodside) holds meetings on the drug problem, helps non-English speakers to fill out forms, and plans activities for children, such as a Halloween party this month.
``Volunteers come as soon as we call,'' says Aleman, whose group has received no outside funding except for a $100 award from the Citizens Committee for New York City Inc. ``In these neighborhoods, three or four years ago, there was a terrible drug problem. But it has changed a lot.''
She credits the change to active community participation.
``We are together,'' says Aleman. ``We started to talk to the police, write to authorities.''
But like many who volunteer or give money, Aleman says such activity is not enough. Aid from local, state, and federal government, either money or added police protection, is also important.
The survey found that the Americans who believe that giving and volunteering are the responsibilities of citizens, 50 percent did not volunteer and 27 percent did not give in the past year.
O'Connell says Independent Sector will sharpen its push to get more people to give 5 percent of their income to charitable groups. Currently, 9 percent of American households do so.
Independent Sector also plans to reach out to those groups who are not as involved, such as young, single Americans, and middle- and upper-income earners who do not match the efforts of the poor.
A random sample of New Yorkers finds many reasons for not giving. Some say they do not have the time. Others say they do not know where to volunteer or give, or have not been asked. And some have made a conscious decision.
David Pezenik, a New York fiction writer, says he is disenchanted with society's selfishness. He formerly worked in the peace movement, but has since quit.
``I found when I was doing for others, people were all doing for themselves,'' he says.