Extreme Charity

You’ve heard of extreme makeovers, and extreme sports. But extreme charity? At least one group is encouraging people to go far beyond the typical levels of charitable giving, by challenging “the cultural norms and stereotypes about what is prudent and possible to give.”

Average charitable giving per household in 2005 was estimated to be 2.2 percent of disposable (after-tax) income, according to Giving USA, an annual compendium of philanthropy statistics. Some studies show that the lowest-income group (less than $20,000 annual income) gives proportionally more than that. At the other end of the spectrum, scholars with Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy found that households earning more than $300,000 give away about 4.4 percent of their income. But Anne and Christopher Ellinger, the founders of Bolder Giving, would like middle-class and wealthy Americans alike to aim higher. Much higher.

The Ellingers began their commitment to philanthropy early in their marriage, after Christopher received an unexpected inheritance at 21. They were motivated to create the Bolder Giving initiative in 2007 because, after years of work with other donors, they were struck by how rarely even the very wealthy reached their full potential for charitable gifts. This, even as overall societal wealth and economic inequality has grown and global needs in areas such as poverty and disease gain more coverage. The rare stories of people who did do extraordinary giving inspired the Ellingers deeply. They decided to gather and promote such stories to show people what is possible when it comes to making good use of assets or income.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2008
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