Marli Houpp’s fiance, Coleton Stitt, fell asleep at the wheel in Wichita and was killed on June 10.
For months afterward, Heather Hayden, Houpp’s mother, tried inviting her daughter home for meals, tried to talk to her and offered counseling. Nothing worked.
“She doesn’t want to discuss any of it,” Hayden said. “She doesn’t want to deal with it.”
In October she got an idea. Last year, Stitt received a pair of pajamas on Christmas, just like Hayden’s family does every year. What if they tried to get people to donate pajamas in Stitt’s name?
They would donate them to the Wichita Children’s Home so some children would feel warm and toasty and special, and the family could focus on that instead of their loss this holiday.
The holiday season is the busiest time for nonprofits; many receive 40 percent of their donations in December. For many Wichitans, like Hayden and Houpp, why they give and how they give is personal, often tied to a specific episode in their lives.
Since starting their effort, Hayden and Houpp have received pajamas and some money to buy pajamas. So they travel to Target together once a week.
“This is something she looks forward to doing, for once,” Hayden said. “She’s excited.”
Hayden and Houpp post pictures of the pajamas they buy on the Facebook page they’ve set up. They already have received more than 30 and are hoping for 100.
“I have no other way to help comfort my daughter,” Hayden said.
Hayden is Buddhist, so most of her regular charitable giving goes to a Buddhist center in town.
“The more we give, the less selfish we become,” Hayden said. “The more love we give other people, the more joy and peace we accumulate.
“It’s a way to increase our own personal joy.”
The more we give, the less selfish we become. The more love we give other people, the more joy and peace we accumulate.
Heather Hayden, who is looking for pajama donations in honor of the passing of her daughter’s fiance
Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1 is important for many nonprofits. In its fourth year, Giving Tuesday is becoming recognized as the kickoff of the charitable season.
Charitable giving is booming in the U.S. It increased around 7 percent last year and 5 percent in 2013, much faster than the economy as a whole.
Giving rises more when the economy is doing well, then it falls during recessions, according to a recent paper at the University of Chicago. As a result, total giving was higher in 2014 than at any time before the recession and now makes up more than $358 billion, or 2.1 percent of GDP.
At the time it was huge, it was just huge; I could eat that night. And I never forgot that that simple amount had a huge impact on me.
The U.S. leads the world in charitable giving in part because it gives the largest tax breaks. Britain, which ranks second, is second in tax breaks, according to a study by the Charities Aid Foundation.
That’s also a reflection of how rich the U.S. is. The U.S. is only ranked ninth when it comes to the proportion of people who say they give to charity, according to Philanthropy.com. Myanmar, which has a huge Buddhist population, ranks first with 91 percent of its inhabitants giving to charity.
Frank Mulhern, 70, remembers walking with his mom on a backstreet in Philadelphia as a kid when he saw a man digging through trash cans.
“ ‘He’s hungry, and he’s looking for food,’ she told me,” Mulhern said. “Here I am 60 years later and that’s still in my mind.”
Mulhern and his wife started serving food during the winter on Tuesday nights at their church in Arkansas City in 2007. They had planned for the program to last just 10 weeks but when it was over, they wanted to continue. They decided that as long as there was money, volunteers and people showing up hungry, they would continue.
Now they’ve served 18,547 meals on more than 411 Tuesdays, he said. He sought advice from the cooks and administrators at the Lord’s Diner, in Wichita, when his food ministry was getting started.
Between the Lord’s Diner and church, he said he gives more than 15 percent of his income. He owns his own house, he and his wife drive 2001 and 2006 Hondas, so they don’t need much, he said.
Kansans ranked 11th in the U.S. for charitable giving in 2012, according to Philanthropy.com, with 3.5 percent of the state’s income going to charities; Sedgwick County ranked in the top third in Kansas at 4.2 percent. That’s partly because of high rates of religious participation in Kansas.
By far people give the most money to churches. One in every three charity dollars goes to religious organizations, a total of $115 billion in 2015.
But that number has been on a steady decline for 30 years. Just 30 years ago, when more people belonged to churches, more than half of all charity dollars in the U.S. went to religious organizations.
I have to believe with faith that the ripple effects will go through the community.
Linda Knudsen hadn’t seen or talked to her priest for three or four years, but one day in her first year in college she received a note from him with $30 enclosed. The note said he was thinking of her.
“At the time it was huge, it was just huge; I could eat that night,” she said. “And I never forgot that that simple amount had a huge impact on me.”
She began giving right away, after she dropped out of school and started doing bookkeeping work, because she knew that even a small gift could mean everything.
She tells her kids, “You’re going to go to McDonald’s and waste five bucks, you might as well give it to somebody. You’d be surprised what might help them.”
Although it was a priest who sent her the money, she’s not a fan of organized religion.
“I’m not a big church person, but the big takeaway from religion is that you should help each other,” Knudsen said. “I never had a problem with that part.”
Experts say most Americans are not strategic about how they give.
There are more than a million nonprofits in the U.S. and more than 2,000 in Sedgwick County alone from which to choose, the vast majority of which raise and spend small amounts.
The average person spends twice as much time deciding which TV to buy as what charity he should donate to, according to Ken Stern, who has written books about charitable giving, in an article on Slate.com. There are only around 100 people in the U.S. whose full-time job is to help people decide where to donate, Stern wrote, compared to more than 150,000 who help people decide which mutual funds to buy.
The average person spends twice as much time deciding which TV to buy as what charity he should donate to.
One of the biggest issues, according to Stern, is that most people donate to causes or people they know personally, rather than those most in need. Less than 12 percent of donations end up with human service organizations, as opposed to churches, alma maters and civic organizations.
For Susan Randall, 60, giving is therapy.
More than 30 years ago she brought her grandmother’s dog on a trip to the nursing home.
“It was amazing just to see her go from this bored, dull, dead look on her face,” Randall said. “to engaged with and enjoying what was going on because she had this dog there to play with.”
Her dad took the dog around to others in the home, who loved it, and, since then, she has been taking therapy dogs to places like schools and nursing homes. She volunteers at the zoo, even just cleaning up after animals, and for the Humane Society. She loves it.
“Being able to do something to make somebody’s day better is a way of making my day better,” Randall said.
A few years ago, Randall was recovering from being raped, she said, and decided she wanted to do give something back to the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center, which had been helping her heal. So she came up with an idea to sell bracelets, and went out and bought supplies.
She worked with her recovery group to choose specific colors and beads to symbolize strength and recovery and then sold them to raise money.
For a time, many experts encouraged people to give to charities with low administrative costs. But recently the trend has been to encourage giving to charities that measure their results and have a high impact.
Another option is to give to charities that publish a lot of independent reports on the impact of their work, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to Freakonomics.com.
A recent survey at Freakonomics.com showed that, on average, charities with higher administrative costs actually had more impact: money spent on a splashy commercial could be inefficient, but it could also be a sign of a well-run organization.
And setting up regular deductions from a bank account is an effective way to give, especially since most people fall short of the amount they say they want to donate.
When Zach Cooper, 30, moved to Wichita about two years ago from South Carolina, he didn’t have a job lined up, just a new wife who is “a lot smarter and prettier than I am,” he said.
But he landed a job at the United Way as a loaned executive, which required him to go to businesses to ask for money.
He was nervous about talking to rooms full of people. But on a tour of Episcopal Social Services, an organization supported by United Way, he met a man named DJ.
“You could tell by his clothes and appearance that (DJ) was down and out on his luck,” Cooper said. “But by his attitude and smile you couldn’t tell that he’s poor.”
DJ spoke passionately about the help he was getting at Episcopal Social Services, and Cooper thought, “If this guy can do it, then I can do it.”
Cooper has since moved on to work for the Air Capital Classic, a golf tournament that donates about $150,000 to charity each year, he said. The tournament costs about $1.3 million to put on, $600,000 of which goes to the golfers, and $700,000 of which are its costs. But whatever else he can raise goes to charity.
Now that he and his wife are making more money than he did as a bookkeeper, in addition to the $5 or $10 they give at church, they also give $1,000 to United Way.
Lower-income individuals donate a higher proportion of their income to charity, even though the wealthy typically get a larger tax break for their charitable donations. But the wealthy donate more in total dollars.
$1,066 matures donate per year
$901 Baby boomers donate on average
$796 GenXers give
$341 Gen Y gives
There isn’t much data on how much married men and women donate separately because their money tends to be comingled. But single women donate more often than single men at every income level and they donate a greater amount at every income level except one, according to Philanthropy.com.
By and large, different racial and ethnic givers agree on the main areas of need: religion, social services, children and health, but they differ slightly in the amounts, according to a study by The Nonprofit Times. Hispanics led all races and ethnicities in how much they wanted to donate to charities for children, blacks preferred health charities more than anyone else, Asians preferred disaster relief and whites preferred religious organizations.
Monisa Fraser has seen the worst of the worst.
She was the pre-sentencing investigator on two of the most horrible crimes Wichita has seen: the Carr brothers’ quadruple murder; and Michael Marsh, who shot and stabbed a woman and then burned her house down with her baby inside.
Although Fraser sometimes thinks the criminals she researches deserve more severe punishments, being able to see the testimony of victims and their families gives her hope.
“Yes, she was angry; yes, she was hurt; and yes, her life was destroyed,” Fraser said, recalling a memorable victim. “But she was still going on and resilient and still trying to remember the good.”
10% incomes up to $25,000
5% $25,000 - 50,000
4% $50,000 - 75,000
3.6% $75,000 - 100,000
3.4% $100,000 - 200,000
4.8% $200,000 or more
Instead of becoming jaded, Fraser gives. She gives 10 percent out of her paycheck to church.
Then four times a year, when she gets extra money, she will donate an additional 10 percent to other charities. She targets charities that help animals and young couples because she remembers receiving $150 for a furnace when she was a young, single mother.
She thinks that people like the Koch brothers can make huge contributions that have an enormous good and so they should be more calculating. But she makes less than $50,000 and so she tries to concentrate on things she hears about, “the small things that would change somebody’s heart,” Fraser said.
“I have to believe with faith that the ripple effects will go through the community.”
TOP GIVING COUNTIES IN KANSAS
(As percent of income on tax returns in 2012 according to Philanthropy.com)