Commission Launched To Study Giving & Volunteering Trends

The launch of a two-year series of studies and discussions regarding American philanthropy was unveiled today with a nod to the “Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs,” tabbed as the “Filer Commission.”

The Generosity Commission is made up of a nonpartisan group of leaders across business, philanthropy and civil society who plan to address the ways in which generosity is expressed in America, particularly during times of stress, and how it can be strengthened. They specifically discussed during the announcement the recent trends in the decline of household giving and people volunteering.

“We give and volunteer because we care about achieving discrete social and environmental goals,” said Jane Wales, chair of the Generosity Commission and vice president of the Aspen Institute. “But we also give and volunteer because having a robust civil society is one of the great attributes of American life and democracy. It is what gives us resilience. And it is at the core of who we are. Tocqueville marveled at it. We all benefit from it.”

The commission members expressed concern about downward trends in middle class “everyday” giving following the Great Recession, specifically, when it comes to generosity in the U.S. The combination of these downward trends in giving and volunteering along with the more than 40-year gap since the last national conversation on generosity with the Filer Commission, led leadership from the Giving Institute and Giving USA Foundation to assemble the Generosity Commission.

The Filer Commission, which ran from in 1973 through 1975, published a 240-page report, “Giving In America,” that was the launching pad for infrastructure organizations such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) and Independent Sector (IS).

Members of The Giving Institute convened a meeting in 2018 to begin the discussion about the downward trends. Some of those funders to that meeting are also among the funders of the commission, which reportedly has raised $2 million for the effort. Some of the funders are: Blackbaud, Fidelity Charitable, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Sage Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, Campbell & Company, Johnson Grossnickle Associates, The Alford Group and Grenzebach Glier and Associates.

Along with the vital role that generosity plays in American society, business, culture and democracy, the Generosity Commission will seek to capture and illuminate the ways in which Americans are reimagining generosity, to fully reflect, celebrate and support the many ways people across the nation meet the needs of their communities, according to Wales. That includes:

  • Embracing new ideas, from crowdfunding to impact investing, direct giving and social entrepreneurship;
  • Recognizing the many ways people immerse themselves in their communities, from informal and formal volunteering to movement building, activism and advocacy;
  • Engaging new generations and mobilizing people from all backgrounds; and,
  • Bringing people together, building commonality and connection and strengthening communities at a time of division.

“Today we face new questions about the nature of our democracy, our social contract and civic identity; the roles of the government, private and nonprofit sectors in our society; and how to ensure that all Americans are included in the process of decision-making and problem-solving in our diverse society,” said Wales. “The Generosity Commission will work to answer these immensely important questions by capturing the ways in which Americans are engaged in collectively reimagining and reigniting our culture of generosity in the U.S. at an hour of need. Only then will we capture the ways in which generosity is viewed and expressed.”

The commission members include: 

For more on the commission, go to https://www.thegenerositycommission.org