Philanthropy and The Men’s Underwear Index
Brassieres, Briefs and Beneficence: When times are bad, both men and women make due with what they have in the undergarment department. When the economy improves is when we tend to restock on underwear. The same holds true for philanthropy. When we are more comfortable about the state of the economy, we are more comfortable giving.
Pop quiz: Which 2014 trend or development will serve as the best indicator for the 2015 state of philanthropy: the runaway success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the emergence of #GivingTuesday as a cultural phenomenon, the recent hefty boost to the labor market, or the fluctuation in the S & P 500 Index?
The truth is that no one factor alone should serve as the indicator for the health of the overall economy or the readiness of individuals to give. But while seeking all the available information, perhaps nonprofit leaders planning for the year to come should take a look at one more economic indicator, which goes by the scientific sounding name – “the Men’s Underwear Index.”
This, believe it or not, is no joke. None other than former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is a known subscriber to the theory that if men are buying underwear – rather than wearing old boxers, briefs or socks to the point of near disintegration – times are good and people feel they have disposable income. (No reputable economist seems willing to accuse women of doing the same.) Underwear, like charitable giving, is a lagging economic indicator. And the indications are that, while we may not have undone all the damage wrought by the 2007-2009 economic meltdown, we are in a far better place than we were three or four years ago.
USA Today recently reported that HanesBrands, America’s top underwear manufacturer, posted three straight quarters of double digit sales and profit growth. In the quarter that ended on September 27, net sales jumped 17 percent. And while we are on the subject of undergarments, let’s look at the lingerie industry. L Brands (LB), which owns and operates Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, La Senza and other stores, reported $700 million in net sales for the month of October. That figure represents a three percent increase over the same period last year.
Americans love to give and contribute to meaningful causes. Even in the economically disastrous year of 2009, when charitable giving fell precipitously, Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charity. So now that times are getting better, nonprofits need to escape the bunker mentality. Now is the time to think big, to begin the capital and endowment campaign you have been putting off, to buy new property, to add new programs, to reach new donors. Remember, the United States remains the world’s most giving nation. If a case can be made for brassieres or briefs, better cases can be made for supporting organizations that are making the world a better place. Let’s collectively forge ahead. Now is not the time to get caught with our pants down!
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