Do you give money to charity? You do if you're a typical American. More than 70 percent of US families contribute every year, and the average household gives at least $1,000. Charitable donations in America add up to about $300 billion annually — which is more, as Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute points out, than the entire gross national product of Finland, Portugal, or Peru. Americans give 12 times as much to charity each year as they spend on professional sports, and almost 30 times as much as they spend going to the movies. By any yardstick, America is one of the most generous nations on earth.
And who, in the annals of this greatly philanthropic country, have been the greatest philanthropists?
The Philanthropy Roundtable, a 25-year-old network of charitable donors that promotes innovative and effective giving, takes up that question in a remarkable and inspiring new project: The Philanthropy Hall of Fame. The online gallery, at GreatPhilanthropists.org, recounts the achievements of 54 American men and women who "changed the nation and the world through their charitable giving." The philanthropists are profiled in absorbing biographical sketches that give a sense of their character and upbringing and that describe the "tactics and results of their philanthropy." Excerpts of the profiles were also published in a recent issue of Philanthropy, the Roundtable's quarterly magazine.