America’s Prosperity and Charity Come from Entrepreneurship, Not Government

America’s Prosperity and Charity Come from Entrepreneurship, Not Government by Laura Hollis for Town Hall

About 15 years ago, I attended an entrepreneurship education conference in St. Louis. Among the attendees were educators from Great Britain. This was fairly unusual, and I was curious why they would have traveled to the central United States. When I inquired, their answers were enlightening.

They noted that American entrepreneurs’ contributions to higher education were prodigious. They remarked on the many colleges and universities named for the benefactors who donated huge sums of money to find them, not to mention the countless buildings, wings, programs, and scholarships created and maintained by perhaps lesser amounts. Even at publicly funded schools here in the U.S., private donations provide substantial support.

“We have no comparable tradition of giving in the U.K.,” one of the visitors further explained. “Our education is largely funded by the government. We’re interested in changing that dynamic.”

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It makes sense, then, that they would attend a conference on entrepreneurship. America’s entrepreneurial culture has produced our incomparable prosperity and corresponding charity. And it’s not only institutions of higher education that have been recipients of Americans’ largesse. K-12 schools, hospitals, foundations, and innumerable charities receive gifts in numbers that increase almost every year — even in difficult economic conditions.

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Indianapolis publishes Giving USA, an annual report about charitable giving in the U.S. According to Giving USA’s most recent report, individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations gave $484.85 billion last year, a 4% increase over 2020. This is notwithstanding the shutdowns and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One might assume the bulk of those gifts is provided by big corporations or the wealthiest members of our society. But that assumption would be wrong. Individuals, not companies or foundations, represent just under 70% of all giving. And what Giving USA calls “megagifts” ($450 million or more) represent only 5% of the total gifts by individuals.

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