A December 2011 Wall Street Journal article, “America the Generous” by Jason Riley, notes: “Despite the economic hardships of so many Americans, the nation remains charitable. A survey released this week ranks the United States first in giving.

“The Britain-based Charities Aid Foundation released a survey this week that ranked the U.S. first in giving, which is consistent with many other studies showing that America is by far the most charitable country on Earth. We give about 2 percent of our national income to charity; most other countries give 1 percent or much less.

“The report is based on more than 150,000 interviews conducted in 153 countries. People were asked about their behavior in the previous month, including whether they had donated money to charity, volunteered time to an organization or helped a stranger. Sixty-five percent of respondents in the U.S. said that they had given money; 43 percent had volunteered; and 75 percent had helped someone they didn’t know. The top-ranked U.S. was followed by Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

“… American largess stems in part from the can-do spirit that free societies nurture … . Unlike in Europe, in America people don’t wait for the government or local noblemen to solve problems. We step up and solve them ourselves. … Philanthropy and charity have always been part of American business culture — from Ben Franklin, who started the first volunteer fire department, to Andrew Carnegie, who brought public libraries to communities all across the country, to Bill Gates, who’s trying to eliminate malaria.

“… charitable giving also helps the U.S. maintain a thriving civil society. It’s the ‘life blood’ of our public discourse. … Name a great issue that we’re wrestling with today — the role of government in our health care, pensions, retirement security, same-sex unions, school choice, all these issues. It’s charitable giving that has made possible a vigorous debate on both sides.”

Following are four examples of the many organizations that exemplify the American spirit of giving:

» Danny Thomas and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Thomas (1912-1991) was an American nightclub comedian, television and film actor, and producer whose career spanned five decades. He was best known for starring in the television sitcom Make Room for Daddy (also known as The Danny Thomas Show). He was also the founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is the father of Marlo Thomas, Terre Thomas and Tony Thomas.

» Shriners Hospitals for Children: The organization is “a network of 22 nonprofit hospitals across North America. Children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate are eligible for care and receive all services in a family-centered environment, regardless of the patients’ ability to pay …

“Headquartered in Tampa, Fla., the hospitals, known as ‘The World’s Greatest Philanthropy,’ are owned and operated by Shriners International, formerly known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a Freemasonry-related organization simply known today as the Shriners. Patients must be minors under the age of 18 and are not required to have any familial affiliation with the Shriners order nor Freemasonry …

“In 1994, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, an industry publication, released the results of the largest study of charitable and nonprofit organization popularity and credibility. The study showed that the Shriners Hospitals were ranked as the ninth ‘most popular charity/nonprofit in America’ of over 100 charities researched, with 40 percent of Americans over the age of 12 choosing ‘Love’ and ‘Like a Lot’ for the Shriners Hospitals.”

» United Cerebral Palsy: UCP “is an international nonprofit charitable organization consisting of a network of affiliates. UCP is a leading service provider and advocate for adults and children with disabilities, including cerebral palsy.

“As one of the largest health nonprofits in the United States, the UCP mission is to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network. … (F)ounded in 1949 by Leonard Goldenson (who would later become chairman of the broadcast network ABC) and his wife, Isabel, and Jack and Ethel Hausman. United Cerebral Palsy pioneered the use of fundraising telethons … its almost 100 local affiliates across the United States, Canada and Australia provide a broad array of services and resources to children and adults with developmental disabilities acquired at birth or as a result of injury …

“Each affiliate provides a different menu of services tailored to their local needs and capabilities, but often include education, employment, health and wellness, housing, parenting and family training and support, sports and leisure, transportation and travel assistance. With a combined budget of more than $750 million for research, public policy advocacy and direct services. Systemwide, an average of 85 percent of all revenue is dedicated to programs …

“In addition to raising money for services and research, UCP also engages in public policy advocacy, including promoting the right of people with a disability to vote, and the provision of services. In the United States, UCP was one of the catalyst organizations advocating for the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. More recently, UCP has been on the cutting edge of disabilities rights with programs such as Life Without Limits, a national initiative to empower people with disabilities to envision and build a better future for themselves and their community.” (Source: Wikipedia)

»  Direct Relief International: The Goleta-based nonprofit organization “focuses on improving the quality of life by bringing critically needed medicines and supplies to local health-care providers worldwide. Founded in 1948 … by William Zimdin … an Estonian immigrant who had amassed significant wealth in pre-war Europe … (He) began sending thousands of relief parcels containing food, clothing and medicines to relatives, friends and former employees who were rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of World War II.

“These efforts were the cornerstone for the William Zimdin Foundation, established … (in) 1948 as a California not-for-profit corporation … . Direct Relief International is one of two charities ranked by Forbes that has received a perfect fundraising efficiency score for five consecutive years and is ranked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as California’s largest international nonprofit organization based on private support.”

“In 1962, Direct Relief International obtained a license as a wholesale pharmacy, which enabled the organization to secure prescription medicines for use abroad. … This focus also established strong ties to U.S. health-care companies, which have long supported their efforts with donations of high-value pharmaceutical and other medical resources that are allocated through (their) assistance program. … In fiscal year 2008, Direct Relief provided $214 million in direct aid through medical material assistance and targeted cash grants providing 49.7 million courses of treatment in 59 countries worldwide. With $0 of contributions spent on administration or fundraising, $39.80 was leveraged in medical material aid (wholesale) for every $1 spent.”

“Since its inception, Direct Relief has provided appropriate and specifically requested medical resources to community-based institutions and organizations in over 140 countries, including the United States.” (Source: Wikipedia)

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.