By Josh Traulsen, Senior Manager, Alumni Engagement
I once heard a story that I feel is relevant to this moment: In the 17th century, Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer, was ordered by the Kaiser to present an accounting of all of his possessions. The Rabbi presented the ledger and after checking it out, the Kaiser accused him of lying and treason. The Kaiser had gifted the Rabbi a castle that he knew was worth much more than the Rabbi accounted for on his ledger. The Rabbi explained to the Kaiser that he had indeed accounted for all that he owned, the castle was a gift which could be taken away along with all of his other possessions. The Kaiser then demanded to know what was recorded on his ledger. The Rabbi replied, “This is my Tzedakah, this is truly mine, not even you can take this away.”
For some of us, charitable giving is the furthest thing from mind right now. With all of the new headaches and challenges that this pandemic has caused the idea that someone would take from themselves to give to others seems crazy.
It turns out that isn’t the case.
According to CNBC, nearly 3 out of 4 Millennials and 66% of Gen Zers have made financial contributions during the pandemic. That is the highest of any other age demographic in the US. My next assumption was that this spike must be due to COVID-related donations for direct relief to a problem that we are all experiencing. Again, I was surprised to find that I was wrong there too. That same report showed that over $11.6 billion have already been donated this year to COVID-19 related causes and even with that influx of giving, Fidelity Charitable found that 25% of Americans intended to increase their donations this year and 58% pledged to maintain their same level of giving from the year before. In general, the majority of Americans also shared that they intended to keep supporting the same charities they had been supporting in 2019.
The one assumption about charitable giving that I was correct about was that we are experiencing a huge drop off in gifts of time through volunteering. With all of the restrictions on physical interaction due to the pandemic, it has become difficult to gather in person to volunteer. I’m not worried though. Just as with most other things that have had to change, we will figure out an alternative for this, too. Individual activities, virtual events, DIY projects, and decentralized experiences will replace our in-person gatherings and lead to new, more accessible ways of helping those around us.
I guess what I am trying to say is something that has been said many times before, maybe most notably by Anne Frank, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” There are still good things going on and people helping others. I implore you to, if you are able, take some time this weekend and make a gift to an organization that you feel has had an impact on your life or that you want to make sure is still here when this is all over.