S.W.R.I. Research Gets $400K Boost

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

The Social Welfare Research Institute will expand its research into charitable giving under a $400,000 grant it received last week from the Lilly Endowment.

The three-year grant will be used to build upon SWRI's research of recent years concerning charitable giving by the wealthy, said Prof. Paul Schervish (Sociology), the institute's director. Much of SWRI's work has focused on the link between the spirituality behind philanthropy (which Schervish terms caritas) and the practical aspects of giving.

He plans to flesh out much of that work while branching off in new, related directions, partly with the aim of helping charities tap into an emerging source of revenue.

"It is not a coincidence that the United States is undergoing an important evolution in the content and intensity of everyday spirituality just as it anticipates an impressive intergenerational transfer of wealth and enters an era in which there is a substantial increase in general affluence and wealth," Schervish said. "How these two fundamental cultural transformations come together in the realms of caritas and charity is the leading question of our research."

SWRI's groundbreaking research has dispelled the myth that the poor give proportionally more than the rich. On the contrary, the research indicates that 40 percent of charitable dollars come from the richest 3.5 percent of Americans. More important, said SWRI Associate Director John Havens, co-investigator with Schervish, is the finding that there are generous donors in all income groups.

"This means that since generosity does not derive directly from one's level of income or wealth, it is important to locate and emphasize those social relations and personal inclinations that do spur generosity," Havens said.

Among the new areas SWRI will examine are giving patterns among African- and Hispanic-Americans, men and women, even liberals and conservatives. In addition, it will study the reactions of those on the receiving end of charity.

Schervish said he anticipates the research will have implications on two levels. "The first is for understanding and advancing the spiritual quality of care in our society," he said. "The second is for harvesting the voluntary contributions, especially of the wealthy, for practical and innovative charitable enterprises designed to manifest that care."

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