During the Great Depression (1929-41) there were only two years when charitable giving trended in a negative trajectory (1931 and 1932). From 1933 until 1941, charitable giving through initiatives such as the community chest steadily showed signs of growth.
As a side note, the previously mentioned years of 1931 and 1932 reveal a great fact regarding the American spirit of philanthropy — more wills and bequests were crafted during these years than any other time in the 20th century! Americans will find a way to fulfill their charitable interests.
During World War II, Americans moved to a different level of philanthropy. We witnessed great community-building endeavors such as victory gardens, the USO and war bonds.
More than 300 charities were created in the months immediately following 9/11. More than $2 billion was raised to help survivors, victims' families and others impacted by the attack on America.
Americans responded once more to a challenge — a crisis of monumental proportions that post-World War II generations had not felt before, a series of events that tore at the very fabric that Americans cloaked themselves in.
The outpouring of support was truly emotional. Americans were fulfilling "disaster response" behavior, just as they did after the Haitian earthquake and the South Pacific tsunami. Since 2005, however, the sustainability factor has taken hold of most of the organizations that grew out of the 9/11 response. The majority of the charitable organizations that sprang up following the attacks have closed their doors. Please don't take this as a negative statement; good works took place during those first years following 9/11.
This does point out a couple of interesting and important aspects of American philanthropic behavior:
• Americans are inherently a generous people regardless of the era, economic climate or event.
• There is a difference between "disaster response" and "mission engagement" when it comes to a long-term outlook for charitable entities. Institutions that have survived over the past decade have created endowments for long-term support, they have established mission appeal and they have continued to work with major donors. These organizations have grown out of one crisis and are navigating our troubled economic waters.
As we enter into this time of remembrance, we should reflect on our original disaster response behavior and realize our 2001 gifts need an infusion of mission-response gifts. The first responders need our assistance now more than ever. They are showing detrimental signs of their heroic behavior now. We need to support the thousands of individuals who will enter into a whole new phase of grieving as they remember that loved one who died 10 years ago.
I am confident we will always answer the call to support our fellow man. We always respond, whether it be disaster relief or mission belief. God bless America!
Harry Vande Velde is president of the Legacy Foundation. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.