Giving in America

Giving has taken many forms throughout American history and has become firmly woven into the American experience. Every year millions of Americans contribute money, time, talent, and resources to causes across the country and throughout the world. Philanthropy is not unique to the United States, but Americans’ ideals of participation, equality, resourcefulness, and shared responsibility have shaped a distinctive form of giving in America.
 

Boots Worn by Earl Shaffer on Appalachian Trail Hike
1998

In 1948 Earl Shaffer became the first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in one continuous hike. The trail—completed in 1937 thanks to the cooperation of government agencies, private partners, and volunteers—continues to be sustained by public-private partnerships. Shaffer wore these boots when he again walked the entire trail, fifty years later.

Gift of Earl Shaffer Foundation

March of Dimes Collection Can
Mid- to Late-1900s

In the early 1900s, nationwide charitable organizations expanded their influence and increasingly relied on support from everyday donors and volunteers. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, renamed the March of Dimes, was founded in 1938 to combat polio and later shifted its mission to preventing birth defects. 

Ice Bucket Challenge bucket
2014

Charitable giving went viral in the summer of 2014 with the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social media effort to promote ALS awareness. More than 17 million videos of participants dumping ice-cold water on their heads have been uploaded to social media websites. Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has the degenerative nerve disease, used this bucket in launching the challenge. 

Gift of Jeanette Senerchia

Alms Box
1800–1840

Alms boxes have been used for centuries to collect money for religious institutions and charities. Even those with little to spare might contribute coins anonymously to an alms box. By the 1800s they were commonly used in the United States, an example of the kind of small-scale giving typical of the time. 

Gift of Kenneth E. Jewett