Publisher's Notebook: Our communities are more giving than data shows
Tuesday, September 25, 2012 4:56 AM
It seems to be a given that our communities in this area are very giving. We see the generosity all the time and those constant reminders add to that outlook, even if we don't know exactly how giving we are in terms of concrete numbers.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a news publication and online site that provides news about nonprofits, recently compiled data on how America gives, breaking the information down by politics, income, religion, geography and other factors.
I was most interested in how our small communities fared, so I took a look at the statistics, which could be broken down even by zip code. People living in the Chatfield zip code of 55923 contributed $1.4 million in 2008, the most recent year records were available to make the determination, while people in the Spring Valley zip code gave $1.1 million. In some of the other zip codes, which have fewer people but still had impressive numbers, the amounts were $498,613 for Preston, $474,107 for Spring Grove and $376,305 for Lanesboro.
Spring Grove zip code residents, which contributed 5.1 percent of their income, had the highest rate for that category in southeastern Minnesota.
Although these were all impressive figures, when I looked at how they compared to other communities in America, I was surprised they were somewhat middle of the road. I just assumed that we were in the top tier.
Of course, the measurement tools aren't completely precise. The Chronicle reports that the data was taken from the IRS from tax returns of people who earned $50,000 or more and itemized their deductions.
Those details can explain a lot. For one thing, incomes are comparably lower in our rural areas, thus much of our giving wasn't even considered. The median discretionary income for Fillmore County households is just slightly over the cutoff used in the study.
For another, our informal way of giving doesn't always lead to deductions on our income tax forms. Think how many times we stick money in hats passed around, donate baked goods or other products for a benefit, or provide someone in need with a service or item.
Even more important in analyzing the state of giving in a community, and one that we would fare quite well in, is time. This thought occurred to me when reading something fellow publisher Dan Evans of LeRoy had written in his newspaper.
We don't have paid commissions or nonprofit organizations to handle many of our public needs in small communities. I'm not talking just about necessities, such as fire departments that are volunteer or local boards that oversee libraries, parks, EDA and other community needs.
Now that the festival season is winding down, just think how many people were involved in setting up these community celebrations, staring with Syttende Mai in Spring Grove and Trout Days in Preston in May through Wykoff's festival this weekend. Not only the people organizing the events, but all the people pitching in, even just for an hour or two, really add up.
Now, put an hourly dollar amount to all that time, plus all the other volunteer hours offered through churches, service organizations and individuals responding to a particular need, and our rate of giving increases substantially. It would be hard to exactly measure that amount because, for one thing, most people don't keep track of their volunteer time. However, the successful results of these efforts show that there are a lot of hours given, which would total a massive amount of wages if converted that way.
Now, I know there are volunteers in every community, but the proportion in a small town seems substantially higher, often times out of necessity because there is no government program or large nonprofit available to help. We are constantly amazed at the unselfish response to need.
We may not have the hard data to support it, but in taking into account all the ways we give, my report on the state of giving shows our communities are doing just fine.