As Chicagoans, we take pride in our civic mindedness and generosity. This Chicago spirit –the steady determination to bring about the very best conditions for all people, as Daniel Burnham described it – can be traced back to our city’s response to the Great Fire as expressed in the 1909 Burnham and Bennett Plan of Chicago. Now we can rightfully substantiate this point of pride.
Giving in Chicago, a study commissioned by The Chicago Community Trust and just released by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University shows that Chicagoans are, indeed, more philanthropic than most communities.
Why does this matter? Perhaps because the harsh fiscal realities facing our state and city mean that we can no longer rely on government to adequately fund key human services and meet basic human needs. While we are aware that charitable donations, foundation and corporate giving can’t fully address the dire budget deficits we currently face at the city and state levels, these dollars do make a significant difference for individuals, families and communities hard-pressed by our changing economy and the echoes of the foreclosure crisis.
Also important is volunteer time and financial contributions made by hundreds of thousands of residents across our region. While nationally the rate of giving hovers around 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product, Chicago-area residents are contributing an impressive 3.1 percent of their household income to nonprofits.
Equally gratifying is that the vast majority of households made contributions to support basic human needs of food, shelter, and basic necessities. In fact, 76 percent cited “helping individuals meet their basic needs” as their top motivation for giving, followed by “feeling that those who have more should help those who have less.”
Another interesting finding is that households with an annual income of less than $50,000 donated approximately 4.4 percent of their income, whereas households with an annual income of $150,000 or more donated, on average, about 2.5 percent. What a powerful statement of the generosity of our region when those with modest means make the commitment to help their neighbors and communities.
The Trust commissioned this study as it approaches its 100th anniversary year to benchmark current household, foundation and corporate giving in the region, with the aim to encourage and inspire all of us to be more philanthropic by sharing our time, treasure and talent to make our communities safer, stronger and more dynamic.
Even though Chicagoans can celebrate the fact that we are more generous than most, the challenges we face suggest that even more volunteer hours and financial contributions will be needed to provide opportunities to ensure that all who call this region home can enjoy a fulfilling quality of life.
The Chicago Community Trust, itself, is a testament to this generosity of spirit – we exist only because of the thousands of donors who have placed their trust in this institution. We will continue to do our part, and we are confident that countless others will join us by supporting those causes that make our city and region a great place to live, work and raise a family.