The other day at work, one of the gift officers I work with pop-quizzed me to see if I was up on my philanthropy knowledge. He showed me the pie chart below (without the text) and asked me which slice of the pie chart belonged to individual giving.
Half instinctively/ half guessing I guessed the largest slice. Turns out, I was right.
According to Giving USA, the total 2008 U.S. philanthropy was $307.7 Billion. Individual giving and bequests accounted for 82% ($251.94 billion) of the total philanthropic dollars, while corporations accounted for 5% and foundations for 13%.
I will admit that before D-SIP and my current position, I shared in the widely-held perception that foundations and corporations are the biggest/best sources from which to obtain donations. However, if we look at dollars raised in the past, the trend tends to be consistent– individual giving is the greatest portion of charitable giving. Even despite the difficult economic conditions in the last year which saw a 5.7% decline in giving, Americans chose to contribute to the causes dear to their hearts.
The brief Philanthropy: 101 session prompted a discussion about the way that individual giving differs from foundation and corporate philanthropy; individual giving by nature is a much more emotional “let’s do good things, let’s be passionate” experience. Foundation and corporate giving is about measureables, sustainability, the systematic approach to making a difference.
The way in which individuals–complex, emotional, intelligent beings–are involved in giving left me with some serious food for thought. Specifically, I am curious about the way in which we measure success (particularly in higher education).
At the end of a fiscal year, how can an institution know if it has been “successful”? Is it the total of dollars raised? Is it the level of donor satisfaction? Is it the number of initiatives/programs that are created? What should we be looking at?!
I’m curious about this because I think that when an institution’s philanthropic support is largely based on individual giving, success cannot solely be quantified, it cannot be turned into charts and graphs because it is naturally much more complicated than a 1 for “yes, I donated” and 2 for “no, I did not”.
In my mind, individuals are much harder to reach and harder to solicit, but also much more involved in their giving (especially when it comes to giving back to their alma mater). They want to support causes they believe in, and they want to work with institutions that make them feel that their monetary and emotional investment is valued. So, in my opinion measuring success cannot solely be a process in which we measure numbers that can be sliced and cut, charted and graphed, but also a measurement of the relationships created and their movement.
I think that being able to have measurements that are a reflection of where a donor started and how he/she has moved is just as important as the amount of dollars raised. Having the ability to know what prompted someone to give, how they moved through the process and what was the pivotal moment in this process which culminated in a donation (or not) is important. I think that there is just as much value in getting an individual to give, as there is in getting someone to move from not being a supporter to accepting that giving back has its merits. I think in many ways it can indicate what the fundraisers did right, but more importantly, it can indicate in which direction they need to be moving.
I’m not sure how institutions do this or even really think about it. It’s something that I am starting to explore more and more within my job so I am still forming my own ideas, but I do think it is very interesting to consider given the fact that individuals are clearly largely invested in giving.
** Source: Giving USA 2009 (givingusa.org)
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