Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just when you think you know a thing or two about philanthropy...

According to a recent Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University study, nearly half of respondents said their charitable donations have a "greater impact on their own personal fulfillment" than on those who actually receive their gifts. Although the results confirmed many long-held beliefs about philanthropy, there are some very interesting nuggets among the findings, including:
  • fewer than 20 percent of respondents believe their donations make a major impact on the organizations they support

  • only six percent believe they're making significant contributions to the improvement of society

The survey does not seem to connect attitudes with specific amounts invested through charitable giving. It was conducted in 2006 and again in 2008, polling people with an annual income of at least $200,000 or a net worth of at least $1 million.

Now, it's entirely possible that a wealthy person might write a $25 check at year-end and conclude that their contribution will not change the organization or change the world. They would be correct.

A more likely scenario, however, is that people responding to the survey have made significant gifts to one or more charities. If that is the case, the results may tell us more about nonprofit communications and stewardship efforts than donor motivations.

If donors don't think their resources are making a difference to the organization, perhaps we (the recipients of these gifts) need to think long and hard about what we're doing to correct that misperception. Are we taking financial partners for granted? Do we tell them how their contributions help us serve others? Apparently, nonprofits are not doing that frequently or effectively enough.

And if our contributors don't see a connection between their philanthropy and changed lives, whose fault is that? True, $1,000 or even $100,000 won't cure cancer or educate all the children in Africa or eliminate world hunger. But when we receive a gift like that, we'd better be prepared to explain how that $1,000 did educate 100 kids or how that $100,000 is fed 10,000 people.

Donors give because nonprofits say they'll do something important with their gift. Let's follow through on that thought, and tell contributors how they are helping those we serve, as well as how they're building our organization's capacity.

If you want to read more, Yahoo Finance posted a good article describing the survey in detail. And thanks to Robert Frank at The Wealth Report for posting his thoughts about the study.