Report from Growing Philanthropy Summit: Let’s Spread the Word

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Surely we all want to grow philanthropy, and the total dollars do grow, except during a recession. So that’s good. But, for 40 years, U.S. charitable giving has stayed fairly constant—at about two percent of average household income according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University’s annual “Giving USA” report on philanthropy. That’s just not so good. Actually, that’s pretty bad. Now is the time to face this problem. But let’s think of this as an opportunity—the opportunity to grow philanthropy in the U.S. To begin, read the “Growing Philanthropy in the United States” report from the Growing Philanthropy Summit, held in June 2011 in Washington, D.C.

The summit was initiated by Adrian Sargeant, a leading fundraising researcher and chair of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University, and the resulting report is co-authored by Sargeant and SPEA Assistant Professor Yue (Jen) Shang.

I was privileged to be one of the “thirty leaders from the nonprofit industry assembled to look at how giving might be developed by the nonprofit sector itself.” It was a good strategic conversation, and the complete report is now available, presented by Blackbaud, Hartsook and Hartsook Institutes for Fundraising. I urge you to read them. Then talk with your organization’s leadership about what you can do. Talk with your professional association. Talk with your colleagues.

So how can we grow philanthropy in the U.S.? Consider these four themes that emerged at the summit and which are detailed in the report:

  1.  Enhancing the quality of donor relationships.
  2.  Developing public trust and confidence in the sector.
  3.  Identifying audiences, channels, and forms of giving with strong potential for growth.
  4.  Improving the quality of fundraising training and development.

Some of my favorite points in this detailed report are things I’ve been talking about for years. Maybe you’ve been thinking and talking about these, too:

  • Enough with the “annual fund.” No one gives to your annual fund. Donors give to what you produce. We have to quit using this insider language out in the world.
  • Build donor loyalty. Pay attention to lifetime value. Retention first.
  • Enough with the organizational silos! For more about that, see Strategic Fund Development (3rd edition).
  • Enough with the bosses and boards that think giving is a financial transaction that happens quickly. Think longer term.
  • And here’s a favorite of mine: “Blow the whistle on organizations claiming to have zero costs of fundraising.”

I urge you to read the “Growing Philanthropy in the United States” report. Visit Blackbaud for more information, updates and invitations to get involved. It’s up to you and me to participate in growing philanthropy in the U.S. In fact, how about us professionals leading the charge? How about us making sure everyone talks about this report?