A recent report from the Giving USA Foundation found that charitable giving in the United States fell by 2 percent last year, which was the largest year-over-year drop in the 53 years that the group has been tracking American philanthropy. This statistic is not surprising considering the state of the global economy. That said, it’s quite encouraging to see that the drop (the first in 21 years) was only 2.7 percent for Individuals and 4.5 percent for corporations, and that the overall size of the philanthropic pie topped $300 billion for the second year in a row.
As Nancy Raybin, a New York philanthropy consultant, eloquently states, “The fact that there were more than $300 billion in contributions this year says that despite how bad things are around us, Americans are still generous.”
After seeing this report, I thought I’d share my experiences with my own personal favorite philanthropic site, kiva. Founded in 2005, Kiva’s mission is to “connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.” Through Kiva, anyone can easily make a loan of $25 or more to any number of budding entrepreneurs. The average loan to these entrepreneurs is $415.92. The loan recipients range from farmers in Tajikistan to grocers in Senegal to auto repairmen in the Philippines to timber salesmen in Mongolia. And, recently, Kiva announced that microloans were now available to people in the United States as well.
For me, I enjoy making loans to people who bicycle. It’s a bit of a strange agenda, but as a cycling advocate, it gave me a nice way of searching through the huge list of loan opportunities that Kiva presented to me. On top of that, since I was able to individually choose which loans to make, I feel that much more connected to the money that I’m giving out, making the experience much more rewarding. I’ve loaned money to two groups women in Cambodia, both of which use a bicycle for transportation. Perhaps the most rewarding part of the experience is when the money starts getting repaid. It feels immensely better to think that the funds that I’m providing are being used wisely to build profitable businesses and train future business owners all around the world. I rolled the repaid funds back into other loans, which allowed my initial $25 loan to work over and over and over again. It’s quite a virtuous cycle.
I think Kiva has found a fabulous model for philanthropic giving. As of June 2009, Kiva has distributed over $76 million in loans from over 500,000 users. So, despite the tough economic times we’re in now, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and invest in others. We’re all in this together, after all.