No other people in the world give as much to voluntary agencies, such as churches, as do citizens of the United States. The record is remarkable, and it is envied by the leaders of private causes in many other countries. This has been so from the earliest days of the nation. One of Alexis de Tocqueville’s best-known observations about early America was that its people “are forever forming associations.” Americans continue to support those associations generously, and some experts estimate that they contributed over $50 billion to private causes last year.

While the nation can point with gratitude to this record, danger signals have arisen. The Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs hoisted some of these in a recently released report. John H. Filer, commission chairman, described as “alarming” the discovery that giving by individuals, as a proportion of personal income, has dropped 15 per cent in the last decade.

Churches and missionary societies are definitely feeling the pinch; they realize that something is happening to stifle the generosity of Americans. Belt-tightening is the general rule. Churches and broadly based missionary groups that have been able to maintain programs at the level of a few years ago are the exception, not the rule. Most have had to cut their programs back because of the declining purchasing power of the dollar even if their total income has remained steady. And many are getting fewer of those deflated dollars.

Many private and church-related organizations have in the past received substantial gifts of supplies and equipment as well as hard cash. The total value of these gifts too has been dwindling. An example is the contributions of pharmaceuticals to mission hospitals. Drug manufacturers ...

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