A Passion for Giving Back

  • February 04, 2016
  • by Rebecca W. Rimel

Editor’s Recommendation

More Notes from the President

August 1, 2018

Generosity and goodwill are basic values that guide many human endeavors, including our work at The Pew Charitable Trusts. The biblical adage “To whom much is given, much is required” inspired the early work of Pew’s founders and made helping others not just a way of life for them, but a legacy that would continue long into the future.

Today, my Pew colleagues and I remain faithful to our founders’ vision of serving the public interest with humility and purpose. That includes a commitment to fostering religious liberty and freedom of thought, a passion that gave meaning to the Pew family’s long philanthropic support of numerous religious faiths and traditions. And because we recognize that religion and culture can drive positive results for our communities and our world, the Pew Research Center continues to study religion and public life in the United States and around the globe.

At Pew, we always begin our work by focusing on evidence and data—and the center’s research on religion offers such an example. The surveys, which began in 2001, provide insights into people’s beliefs, their religious practices, and the role of faith in the public square.

For example, a recent report shows that the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, pray daily, and regularly attend religious services has declined modestly in recent years. This change is primarily due to the growing minority of Americans—in particular the millennial generation—who say they do not belong to any organized faith.

However, among the 75 percent of Americans who do claim a religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed, religiously affiliated people appear to be even more observant in recent years, with increases in the number who say they regularly read scripture, share their faith with others, and participate in small prayer groups. You can learn much more about the results of the survey in the cover story of this issue of Trust.

Our corrections work is based on data that show how to deploy public resources more effectively to control prison growth and reduce recidivism. Pew and its partners have helped 31 states develop evidence-based policies and programs that reduce crime and increase public safety while holding offenders accountable. Those efforts have earned bipartisan support among policymakers and provided a better return to taxpayers, avoiding billions in prison costs.

Last year, for example, Utah passed legislation that reduces penalties for nonviolent offenses—a change that is projected to cut prison growth by 95 percent and forestall the need for $500 million in corrections spending over the next two decades. Now, as reported in “A New View on Corrections,” a bipartisan coalition in Congress, responding to the $6.7 billion cost of operating more than 100 federal correctional facilities—25 percent of the entire Justice Department budget—is considering similar federal legislation.

We will ... never lose sight of the importance of generosity to the success of our mission.' 

In keeping with our founders’ values, Pew’s decade of work on this issue is not just about saving money and making communities safer; it is also about giving a second chance to nonviolent offenders who made mistakes but still have the potential to lead productive, rewarding, and consequential lives.

Preserving what the Rev. Billy Graham—whose early work benefited from the founders’ generosity—called the “order, beauty, perfection, and intelligence” of nature is another way that Pew endeavors to return a lasting dividend to society. In 2012, working with partners, we set an ambitious goal of protecting 1 billion acres of Canada’s wondrous boreal forest by 2022, with half under formal protections and the other half under development rules that ensure future commercial activities will not harm the boreal ecosystem. At 750 million acres, we are now three-quarters of the way to our goal.

In this issue of Trust, you’ll meet two people who are helping us balance conservation and sustainable development in a region that is critical to our global environment.

Sophia and Ray Rabliauskas are leading an effort to have more than 8.25 million acres of boreal wilderness known as Pimachiowin Aki—one of the largest undisturbed expanses of forest and wetland anywhere—declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Securing this designation would help highlight the international significance of the boreal. As Ray explains, the plan “is to educate people about … how to care for the land and why it’s important. And they need to understand that before it’s too late.” Their story is the first of several profiles of citizens who are giving back and helping protect the boreal that will be featured in upcoming issues.

From the earliest Jewish teachings on tzedakah (charity) to the recent admonition by Pope Francis that “true charity requires courage,” we are reminded that helping others can fuel consequential change for the public good. So while Pew will never walk away from our commitment to evidence and research—and the stewardship of our founders’ intent—we will also never lose sight of the importance of generosity to the success of our mission.