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A New Year’s Resolution to Consider: Redirect “Frivolous Consumption”

Heather EhlertBy Heather Ehlert
Director of Develoment + Senior Consultant

Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the New Year, we probably have a good idea which of our resolutions will stick and which won’t.

It’s also not too late to add an extra pledge or two…so here’s something for consideration.

Every summer, in conjunction with Nonprofit Connect, U.S. Trust and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, our firm hosts a presentation of Giving USA and High Net Worth Philanthropy Studies. (Giving USA is the highly respected annual report on philanthropy that covers sources and uses of charitable giving in the United States. It is a collaborative effort among the Giving USA Foundation, The Giving Institute and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.) Last June’s presentation provided an optimistic outlook for philanthropy:  giving was growing.  2012 was the third consecutive year of increases in giving since the great recession, so the signs were at least pointing in the right direction.

Our main presenter, Dr. Patrick Rooney (Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy) made a statement that still sticks with me:

“Total giving as a percent of GDP has been stuck at two percent, plus or minus, for the last 50 years. But if every American household reallocated $5 a day of frivolous consumption to philanthropy, that would double household giving over night.”

Frivolous consumption. 

I cannot get that out of my head.  Dr. Rooney was not lecturing us, issuing a mandate or trying to make us feel guilty.  He was simply using a technical term, offering a way to increase charitable giving to help it more quickly return to pre-recession levels.  And it got me thinking about my own frivolous consumption.

Is it that latte I grab on the way to the office in the morning?  The lunch I buy because I didn’t have (or make) the time to prepare it the night before?  I am sure all of us could make a hearty list of items that fall under “frivolous consumption.” 

Similarly, can’t we make a list of things we could really live without?

Time for me to quit thinking and start acting.

I think I’ll drive straight to the office tomorrow.  Take some leftovers for lunch. 

And start to redirect my frivolous consumption.

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