Highlights form 2010 GivingUSA Survey

June 30th, 2011

Last week, at the monthly AFP Breakfast, David King, President of Alexander Haas presented a summary of findings from this year’s GivingUSA comprehensive survey on American Philanthropy. And then this week, fundraising consultant, Bruce Flessner of Bentz, Whaley, Flessner, while agreeing in concept with King’s interpretations, expanded my view further at the regional Association for Healthcare Philanthropy meeting in Orlando.

Here are some highlights of the survey and it’s importance to major giving officers and annual fund managers  :

  • Giving is up! In 2010, giving increased 2.1% over 2009 coming in at $290 Billion.
  • “Religion” as a category of recipients continues as the leader at 35% of that total; yet as a group it continues to lose market share. King attributes that in part to the slow acceptance of church organizations to embrace the idea of bringing professional fundraisers on staff.
  • Giving to the “Arts” is up as well. In 2010 it represented 5% of the total philanthropy pie. King explained that in recessions giving to Arts and Cultural organizations has historically always plummeted, yet as soon as there is economic improvement they also always enjoy a surge in giving, almost as if traditional donors to Arts and Culture are trying to make up for the setback.
  • “Education” had a good uptick coming in at 14% of the total. That trend will continue.
  • “Foundations” as a group saw it’s percentage drop a bit, down to 11% of the total.  It seems that as appreciated assets lost value there was less incentive by donors to put money into Foundations.
  • “Human Services” giving was up slightly to 9% of the total, but not what was expected since unemployment continues to linger at high levels.
  • “Healthcare” had an unsteady gain at 8% of the total, which seems to mirror the uncertainty of that marketplace overall. Flessner in his presentation on the impact of current economic trends on healthcare philanthropy seemed to agree as he referred to the jittery nature of all hospital CEOs. As we know, politically there’s little, if any, predictability in their marketplace.
  • Giving to “Public/Social” agencies saw a continual rise up to 8% of the total, probably due to the increases, small as they’ve been, to payroll deductions sent along to agencies like the United Way.
  • Giving to “International Affairs”, though a relatively small sector, has also seen a rise, due in large part to recent natural disasters and our ability to know about them, thereby being able to give quickly and digitally, even though, interestingly enough, the length of giving per disaster only averages a span of 5 days. Katrina was the exception as we know. This sector was the fastest growing segment in 2010.
  • Giving to the “Environment” sector was down. The cause for that decline was attributed primarily to the loss in value to land. Traditionally, much of the major giving to Environmental groups is in the gifting of  land holdings. And, of course, as we’ve all seen and suffered from, land values have fallen significantly over the last 2-3 years.

Lastly, as giving relates to the trends that fundraisers must anticipate, both King and Flessner agree. Major giving continues and the future for continued reliance upon them going forward is bright. Annual giving via a focus on annual events, on the other hand, must be carefully monitored and evaluated. While the richest of donors will continue to give large gifts (although the gifts will come from relatively new monies as the economy forces some shifting in major wealth), unemployment is not relenting as quickly as had been hoped. Because of that reality, organizations like St. Jude’s Research Hospital or the March of Dimes, who focus upon grassroots giving, most likely will find that “giving as usual” will require a renewed energy in thinking about thanking.

The bottom-line seems to be that while the divide between the very rich and those who are not continues, there is an on-going rearrangement of just who those “very rich” will be. For instance, the building owner (past large donor) who had to sell his holdings for pennies on the dollar, sold them to others, who will now profit by the acquisition. Those individuals and corporations will simply put new faces on old money, demanding that fundraisers steward new prospects.  Both Flessner and King emphasize the importance of fundraisers to be aware of national economic trends, yet focus and understanding must actually be on the realities of local economies and donor activities. Though this may read as simplistic, I think the warning here is not to become caught up in national media drama and hyperbole. Successful fundraisers will be those who study, understand, and act asssertively within their own backyards.

Written by Robin E. Williams


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