A Spirit of Giving: Faith Traditions and Giving

Brandon Baird

Are faith and religion still major drivers of philanthropy in the United States? You better believe it. 

As reported in its 2016 Annual Report, Giving USA found that religious organizations received the largest share of total charitable dollars in 2015, at an estimated $119.3 billion, or 32 percent of total giving. This number dwarfs contributions to education, which received the second-largest share of charitable dollars at $57.48 billion, or 15 percent of total giving.

In 2016, The Denver Foundation distributed more than $1.3 million to religious organizations and programs that are expressly religious in nature, such as The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and Jewish Family Services. And mirroring the national data, many of our fundholders support civil rights, health and human services, education, and environmental organizations through the lens of their personal beliefs.

Lee Everding, founder of the Abrahamic Initiative and a Denver Foundation donor, has been pursuing and finding common ground among people of different backgrounds for years. As an active member of the Episcopalian church who feels a duty to give back, Lee was inspired to start the Abrahamic Initiative in 2001 (prior to the September 11 attacks) as a forum for dialogue and understanding.

“Given the circumstances of today’s world,” she says, “it is important for people to be open to meeting people from other faith traditions and to learn about those traditions to see where we are alike. What do we share? We learn what is discomforting by being in relationship with other people.”

In late March, The Denver Foundation was proud to organize and host an issue briefing entitled “Conversations that Matter: Connection, Philanthropy, and Community Across Faiths.” The panel presentation and discussion led by the Abrahamic Initiative was an extremely timely dialogue focused on the philanthropy and community engagement that flows from the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 

A panel of speakers spoke on behalf of Shia Muslim, Reconstructionist Judaism, and Christian traditions and responded to the idea that when we commit to learning from others outside our own sphere of influence, we can gain new depth and fresh perspective for the important work that we do around generosity and giving.

The speakers described the rich history and theological underpinnings of philanthropy in their faiths and reinforced the shared values that lead one to pursue charity and philanthropy. Attendees were also able to share how their faith informs their own giving.

Events like these and the data show that people of all faiths, and no faith at all, are rallying around many of the same issues and building a home for their philanthropy at places like The Denver Foundation. Religious or not, our donors are finding common ground in an era of polarization and working to create the kind of world in which we all want to live.

Donors and their guests are invited to join the Philanthropic Services Group for free issue briefings on a range of topics all year round. For information on upcoming dates and topics, please call Brandon Baird at 303.974.2610 or email bbaird@denverfoundation.org.

Contact us

Senior Communications Officer: Laura Bond | lbond@denverfoundation.org

Communications Associate: Dele Johnson | djohnson@denverfoundation.org

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