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Study Shows Neediest Have Most Need To Give Back. My Experience Does Too

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

This Thursday, millions of Americans will gather around abundant dinner tables to give thanks for the blessings and bounty of the past year. Filled with a spirit of gratitude, many will decide to help the less fortunate, and seek out opportunities to volunteer in their communities.

As the President of the Board of a nonprofit that connects my community’s most vulnerable with resources they need to improve their quality of life, I’m used to seeing an increased interest in volunteering to serve a meal, or assist in our homeless medical clinic at this time of year.  It’s motivated by the same intentions that have given rise to the #GivingTuesdaymovement – a national day of giving following the national day of consumerism that Black Friday represents.

I understand and recognize the motivation. Yet I was particularly surprised to see it expressed amongst our homeless guests a few weeks ago.  Each year, the 530 Fullerton Foundation serves over 12,000 hot meals to those in need. Yet on this particular Tuesday, our guests asked if they could turn the tables and serve a meal to the program’s volunteers.

The dining room tables were laid with care, and I was treated to a lunch that included a great chicken salad presented in individual lettuce cups, artfully arranged fruit salads, and still warm-from-the-oven chocolate brownies.

At each table of volunteers, a homeless guest acted as host – making introductions, refilling water glasses, and keeping the conversation engaged. My tablemates had a lively discussion about the Serial podcast, the lack of a State budget in Illinois, and the challenges of raising teenaged kids.

Distinction between homeless guest and comfortable volunteer disappeared, and a true community was formed. And as I left the meal that day, I realized how much all humans share in common – including a fundamental need to give generously to others.

Perhaps this wasn’t such a unique occurrence, though.  Last Fall, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a study that showed that the richest American are donating less to charity, while the poorest are giving more.  The Chronicle’s Editor, Stacy Palmer, explained that “Lower and middle-income people know people who lost their jobs or are homeless, and they worry that they themselves are a day away from losing their jobs. They’re very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard.”

Tami Phillips, from an LA-based charity suggested that the poor are more generous because “It hits closer to home … any day, they too could become homeless.”

Yet, whatever one’s income level, I believe that we all share a desire to help one another – it’s part of what living in a community is all about.

And today, there are many ways to do so.  The Amazon Smile program automatically donates a portion of your online purchases to charitable purposes at no additional cost to you – making it easy to merge holiday shopping with charitable giving.

Crowdsourcing websites make it easy for individuals to plan events like marathons or dance parties, or sponsor others who are participating in these events to benefit worthy nonprofit organizations.

And of course, nearly every 501(c)(3) is happy to take a direct donation from their website. 

So, whatever your means, and whatever your motivation, I suspect that this Thanksgiving, you’ll find an small inner voice calling you to be thankful for what you have and look for how you can share it with others this week. Whether you choose the 530 Fullerton Foundation or another charity to volunteer at or donate to, I suspect that you’ll benefit from the experience.

But I’m curious to hear your experiences. Are you drawn to do more or give more to charity during the holidays? Have you felt this need more strongly during years of abundance or years of need? How are you celebrating #GivingTuesday?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.  And if you found this post meaningful, let me know by giving it a “Thumbs Up!” and sharing it with others.

About: JD Miller is a senior technology executive with a career spanning small startups and large public companies.  He uses this expertise to help organizations increase and sustain sales performance.  He is also active in Chicago’s philanthropic community, with a special interest in issues related to hunger and homelessness.

You can follow Dr. Miller on Twitter @JDM_Chicago

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