As the year draws to a close and the holiday season envelops us in its festive glow, I’m reminded of Charles Dickens’s timeless sentiment from A Christmas Carol: “I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

This monologue from Fred, Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew, beautifully captures the season’s essence, notably the surge of generosity that characterizes end-of-year giving to philanthropies. Amidst the trimmings of holiday decorations and the cheer that permeates the air, the culmination of the year becomes a poignant moment for individuals and corporations alike to embrace the charitable spirit, recognizing the shared journey of humanity and the transformative power that philanthropy holds in shaping a more compassionate and equitable world. 

In today’s complex cultural landscape, the clamor for government intervention to solve all societal issues often overshadows the incredible potential of individual and private-sector initiatives. While acknowledging the importance of government in addressing significant challenges, it’s crucial to recognize that not every societal problem requires a government solution. Philanthropy is an indispensable pillar, offering a powerful avenue for individual citizens to become social investors, providing solutions and support that complement traditional approaches. 

In 2022, charitable giving in the United States experienced a decline for the first time in four decades, with a 3.4% drop in total giving to $499.3 billion and a 10.5% decrease when adjusted for inflation, according to a Giving USA report. The decline occurred amid economic challenges, including a 20 to 25% stock market decline and an 8% inflation rate. Despite these factors, experts highlight that the results are better than anticipated, considering the tough economic climate created by inflation. Large-scale nonprofits, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, are grappling with increased costs due to inflation, leading to calls for alternative forms of support, such as donations of airline miles and hotel points. The downturn in giving raises concerns, especially as the percentage of Americans participating in charitable contributions has decreased.  

While the drop we saw in charitable giving in 2022 was rare — it has only happened three times in the last 40 years — it does raise concerns in a political climate where both major political parties are seeking to use the power of government to their own ends, rather than inquiring if different actions are even the proper role for government. The essence of a thriving society doesn’t solely rest upon governmental actions; it equally depends on the collective effort of engaged citizens and the philanthropic ventures they support. The marriage of a free-market economy and the benevolence of philanthropy creates an ecosystem where societal issues find diverse, adaptive, and creative solutions. 

At the heart of the argument for philanthropy is the notion that individuals and private entities can serve as influential change agents. The essence of this social investment is not merely a handout but a strategic deployment of resources towards endeavors that are often beyond the immediate scope or capacity of governmental action or market-driven interests. 

Philanthropy doesn’t undermine the role of the market or government; instead, it amplifies their impact by addressing gaps and needs that might otherwise remain unmet. It acts as a catalyst for innovation and risk-taking, fostering groundbreaking solutions that might not initially yield financial returns but can profoundly impact society in the long run. 

Moreover, philanthropy operates with agility, unbound by bureaucratic constraints, enabling rapid responses to emerging issues or underserved areas. It steps in where government support might be lacking or delayed and contributes to long-term sustainable solutions in diverse sectors, from education and healthcare to environmental conservation and beyond. 

The critical argument for philanthropy lies in its ability to address issues that can’t be measured solely economically. Social challenges, such as poverty alleviation, equity, and social justice, demand a multifaceted approach that transcends market dynamics. Philanthropy is a driving force for change, supporting advocacy, community development, and fostering social capital, thus pivotal in shaping a more cohesive and compassionate society. 

As individuals and businesses engage in philanthropy, they become more than donors; they become social investors, strategically placing resources in areas that align with their values, goals, and vision for a better future. This social investment mindset is pivotal in creating a more resilient and responsive society. 

As the CEO of the John Locke Foundation and the publisher of Carolina Journal, I am privileged to witness the impact of charitable investments in advancing our mission for a better North Carolina. Our organization is deeply grateful for the support of our donors, whose generosity enables us to contribute positively to the state’s welfare. In the spirit of Fred’s timeless quote from A Christmas Carol, I encourage readers not only to consider giving to the John Locke Foundation but to embrace the broader charitable spirit by supporting other worthy causes to support human flourishing. 

While governments and the free market play vital roles in shaping societies, the pivotal position of philanthropy as a complementary force must be considered. Not every societal issue requires a government solution, and individual citizens can be social investors, affecting change and progress through their philanthropic endeavors. The power of philanthropy in addressing societal needs while fostering innovation and social change is not just an option but an indispensable pillar for a vibrant and responsive society.