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Why I Give

October 24, 2011

Recently, a graduate student at NYU interviewed me for a paper she was writing on the psychology of giving. I was all prepared to talk to her about why American Express is engaged in philanthropy as a company (I'm used to that question), but she wasn't interested in that. She was interested in why I give personally.

This question stumped me a bit. I know from my nonprofit management classes that research has shown repeatedly that people give because they believe in the mission of the organization, they feel a sense of community responsibility and civic pride, and they have high regard for the organizations' staff and volunteer leadership. They might also consider factors like the influence of the solicitor, potential recognition of the gift, and the uniqueness of the opportunity. Tax considerations usually rank low on the priority list.

From my own point of view, personal relationships and connections are very important. I tend to give to organizations where I am involved as a board member or volunteer first. I also support organizations where friends and family members are either involved or where they have benefited from services. And, I like to give to organizations that benefit the disadvantaged in my own community and those impacted by natural and manmade disasters. Of course, my wife and I have made joint decisions on giving for years, so organizations that impact us as a family are also priorities.

Lately, we've included our teenage daughter in our decision making – particularly around holiday time. Her impulse adds to our giving portfolio. She tends to be drawn to organizations that benefit disadvantaged people in parts of the globe that do not directly impact us. She's also interested in supporting very tangible projects like buying a cow, a goat or mosquito nets or providing specific immunizations for people who need them.

We are in the midst of the annual Give2Gether campaign at American Express (our employee giving campaign), which this year is taking place in the United States, Canada, India and the United Kingdom. During this campaign, we ask our employees to make a pledge to support the nonprofit organization or organizations of their choosing, and then American Express matches that contribution dollar for dollar, pound for pound or rupee for rupee. Last year, 70% of our employees in the United States, nearly 60% of our employees in Canada and over 40% of our employees in India participated in the campaign (the U.K. is new this year). This is an extraordinary outpouring of generosity and community spirit.

Why they give, or why you give, may be different than why I give. So, I'd like to hear your thoughts. Share your giving motivations here and we'll share them with our readers.


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