We are blessed to live in a remarkably charitable nation. The Giving USA Foundation estimates that Americans gave $306 billion to charitable organizations last year, more than 2.2 percent of gross domestic product. According to The American magazine, charitable giving has risen faster than the overall economy for more than 50 years. Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of U.S. households make financial gifts to houses of worship and nonprofit organizations each year.
And nowhere is the generosity of the American spirit more evident than right here in the Heartland. In fact, the Midwest ranks as the No. 1 region in the country when it comes to volunteerism, and the Peoria area is no exception. Last year’s Heart of Illinois United Way campaign placed the area among the top-performing ranks of United Ways across the country. Anecdotally, our region is well known for its giving nature.
With more than 2,100 tax-exempt not-for-profit organizations in the Tri-County Area, the act of charitable giving is woven into the fabric of our lives. In central Illinois, the business and not-for-profit communities are inextricably intertwined. Community leaders invest heavily in time, money and sweat equity to build and strengthen these organizations, all for the greater good and a better quality of life for all central Illinoisans.
The not-for-profit world has changed dramatically in recent years, with donors increasingly seeking greater accountability for their charitable dollars. This has pushed nonprofits to operate more like businesses, ensuring that those dollars are spent effectively, in ways which will make the greatest social impact. Today, there are more sources than ever—just a mouse click away—for those who wish to gauge the effectiveness of their favorite charitable organizations.
Why do we give? Certainly, we all wish to make this world a better place for our children and grandchildren. But also, giving just feels good. Numerous studies have shown that the act of giving actually alters our brains’ chemistry, bringing a feeling of euphoria known as the “helper’s high.” This phenomenon, in fact, helps to lower stress, improve our health and strengthen the immune system.
Here in central Illinois, we place a significant premium on volunteerism and community involvement, as reflected in the criteria for selecting our annual 40 Leaders Under Forty. Next month, you will read about 40 young professionals who are dedicated to their communities and enhancing the lives of those around them.
Kudos to those wonderful folks who give of their time and financial means to serve a cause greater than themselves! Whether you serve in the soup kitchen or on the board, whether you are an unpaid volunteer or an underpaid staff member, it is your passion and commitment that makes this world go ‘round. You are on the front lines of service—it’s part of our Midwestern character; it’s what makes central Illinois such a great place to live!iBi