I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.
This week, we tell about philanthropy in the United States.
"Philanthropy" comes from Latin and Greek. It means a love of humankind, especially as shown through an act like giving to charity groups.
Charities collect money to help the sick and needy, to support the arts and to aid other causes.
Experts say philanthropy has played an increasing part in American society since the eighteen-sixties. These days, rich people like Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, and media businessman Ted Turner make news with their gifts to charity.
But fundraising experts say about seventy percent of households give donations to non-profit groups during any given year. This time of year, around the holidays, is an important time for charity appeals.
The United States has nine-hundred-thousand charities listed with the federal tax agency. If churches and other religious congregations are included, the number is almost one-and-a-half million.
A report called “Giving USA” estimates how much individuals, companies and others give to charity. In two-thousand-two, the amount reached almost two-hundred-forty-one-thousand-million dollars. This was an increase of one percent over two-thousand-one. If inflation is considered, giving decreased by half of one percent.
Still, the group that releases the yearly report called the level historic. An official noted that it came during a year of economic difficulties and other worries.
"Giving USA" is released by the Trust for Philanthropy of the American Association of Fundraising Counsel. The Center on Philanthropy at the University of Indiana does the research and writes the findings.
Publications about philanthropy list the fifty charities that receive the largest income. The list includes organizations that aid social, financial and development agencies and religious groups. Other charities on the list help support hospitals and disease research. Still others aid public broadcasting, museums and the performing arts.
Publications say the National Council of Young Men’s Christian Associations was the top-income charity for two-thousand-two. YMCA’s have grown to offer many services. These include health care for children and older people and international education.
The publications say the American Red Cross had the second largest income for two-thousand-two. The Red Cross provides blood and tissue products. It trains millions of people in lifesaving skills. And its volunteers give their time to aid victims of floods, fires and other terrible events.
Catholic Charities USA placed third on the list of income received in two-thousand-two. Social service agencies connected to Catholic Charities help people of all religions.
Number fifty on the list of the fifty top-income charities last year was the National Mental Health Association. This is the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit group that deals with mental health. More than three-hundred-forty allied organizations work to improve mental health through activism, education, and research.
Charities collect donations in many ways. Often they ask by mail. Others use the telephone. The Internet is another way.
People who give money to charities can reduce their taxes. But government officials warn people to be careful, like after the wildfires this autumn in Southern California. Not all groups that appeal for money are honest.
Even with honest groups, there is always the question of how they use the money they collect. Officials say people should ask how much a charity spends on itself for administrative costs.
Many Americans give to a combined charity at work. For example, the United Way operates in about one-thousand-four-hundred cities. Its yearly campaigns combine the needs of many charities.
Some charities hold dinners and dances to raise money. Others hold auctions. People compete to offer the highest price for artworks and other objects.
Young people serve charities in many ways. They hold community parties, wash cars and sell foods they make.
Charities often organize walks or races to raise money. The March of Dimes, for example, holds more than one-thousand walks each year. One of the main jobs of this group is to raise money for research into ways to prevent babies from being born too soon.
The March of Dimes walking event is called WalkAmerica. It takes place in all fifty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The walks began thirty-three years ago. Since then, WalkAmerica has raised more than one-thousand-million dollars.
Adults and children take part in the walks. Walkers ask family members and friends to make a gift to the March of Dimes. Others who want to help can offer their time to help administer WalkAmerica events.
Some charity experts say walks, races and other such events do not always raise much money. They say the success depends on the weather, the economy and the competition from other events at the same time.
But other experts point to reasons besides money for holding such events. For example, a runner in a race for AIDS research and treatment can learn more about the disease. Media reporting on the event can also increase public interest in supporting the charity.
There are other reasons that people get involved in charity events.
For example, there is a retired Army officer in Washington, D.C., who always walks in events to aid research and treatment of breast cancer. His wife died of the disease several years ago. The man says he walks to honor his wife’s memory and to help protect the health of his daughters. He says, “It feels good to fight back.”
Actors, athletes and other famous people have helped launch efforts for many causes. Support from celebrities helped Gary and Susan Ellis of Florida start a charity that now receives millions of dollars.
Their daughter Nicole was born nineteen years ago. She is now a college student. But she has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs and other organs. Currently, even with the best treatment, Nicole cannot expect to live a long life. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation says the average lifetime of a person with this disease is thirty-two years.
Still, many years ago, most children with cystic fibrosis never reached the age of seven.
Nicole’s father is captain of a fishing boat in the Florida Keys. After learning of her sickness, Gary Ellis asked for help from some people who liked to fish. These included the great baseball players Ted Williams and, later, Joe DiMaggio. They and other celebrities helped start a fishing competition to raise money for cystic fibrosis. That was in nineteen-eighty-eight.
With time, the competition became known as the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series. It raises money for research and treatment of cystic fibrosis.
Businesses, students and even very young children raise money for charity. Some people leave their money or property to charities when they die. In doing these things, all of these people are following a tradition many centuries old.
For example, ancient Israelities were asked to pay a tax to help poor people. In ancient Egypt and Greece, ruling families helped establish libraries and universities. Churches in Europe supported hospitals and homes for children with no parents.
In the United States, gifts from private citizens helped establish many early colleges, churches and hospitals. And today many of these places continue to depend at least in part on philanthropy.
This VOA Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.