Charitable ‘fatigue’ seen on the rise

Americans are losing interest in volunteering and charitable giving, a survey by YMCA of the USA says.

From 2010 to 2014, the share of people who planned to volunteer time or expertise to a worthy cause or organization fell to 41 percent from 57 percent, the YMCA says.

Over those five years, the YMCA has tracked Americans’ perceptions of their community against 30 “key drivers” that it says indicate overall community strength, such as how well a community fosters active lifestyles or its delivery of basic social services to residents, Jonathan Lever, vice president of health strategy and innovation for YMCA of the USA, says in a commentary.

Asked this year how they performed on those factors, on average, respondents gave their communities an overall C-plus, down from B or B-minus in each of the previous years of the survey, Lever says.

What’s more, the overall perceived importance of those community “drivers” plunged to its lowest level in four years, he says.

Lever says Americans are experiencing “fatigue” in the face of a post-recession recovery marked by “fits and starts.”

Many Americans feel that “for all their hard work and best efforts to contribute to their communities, we should be further down the path to recovery by now,” he says. “And that’s left many Americans very tired.”

The cause of that fatigue “could lie in who ultimately shoulders the load for improving our communities,” he says.

Each year, asked in the survey “who holds the best  opportunity to make a difference in their community’s quality of life,” respondents have identified “themselves and their families,” Lever says.

But this year’s survey showed a decline in Americans’ perception of the importance of their own role in improving their communities.

“Although they still consider themselves as playing an integral role,” Lever says, “Americans increasingly feel making a difference in their community is a shared responsibility among government groups, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and educational institutions,” he says.

The silver lining, he says, could be that Americans increasingly may be seeing that fixing their communities depends on private-public partnerships.

While “it’s concerning to think that Americans may be losing stamina for engaging with and helping grow their communities,” he says, “I am heartened by the idea that, perhaps, more people are recognizing that collaboration is truly the way forward.”

— Todd Cohen

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