October 3, 2012; Source: Philanthropy News Digest

Very rich people matter a lot in the overall landscape of philanthropy. A recent study reveals that of the nearly $300 billion donated last year, more than 70 percent came from individuals, and of that amount, around half came from the wealthiest three percent of households in the U.S. Thus we must pay attention to the 2012 Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy. Motivations, giving patterns and trends—there is a lot of information here.

Some of it is unsurprising. People who are engaged with an organization as a volunteer tend to give to that organization and it should be no surprise that this holds true for the super wealthy. The other day we wrote about John Paulson, who pledged $100 million to Central Park’s endowment and upkeep. His relationship with the park is life-long. He was walked through the park in a stroller as a baby. Now he exercises there and he sits on the board of the Central Park Conservancy.

The study reinforces this old saw, finding that the more high net worth individuals volunteer, the more they give. This study, the latest in a series that began in 2006, is performed by the Bank of America and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. The 2012 study finds that those who volunteered in excess of 100 hours gave more than $78,000 on average, about twice the average gift given by those who volunteered less. Most often, the volunteer activity was serving on a board of directors (61 percent), followed by event planning and fundraising activities (both 48 percent).

What’s the chance of a billionaire volunteering more than 100 hours? Very good, since 54 percent actually do so and 35 percent say they volunteer more than 200 hours. Forty percent volunteered pro bono services. The study also reexamined motivations and found that, as always, wealthy donors cite the following as reasons for giving:

  • “Being moved by how a gift can make a difference (74 percent).
  • Feeling financially secure (71 percent).
  • Because they give to the same organization or cause annually (69 percent).
  • Because they feel the organization they are supporting is efficient (68 percent).”

In a great note about the comparative levels of confidence in the sectors, 91 percent of the high net worth households surveyed said they had confidence in nonprofits to solve domestic and global problems and 90 percent felt confident that individuals can create positive change. Apparently, fewer have confidence in the private sector, and fewer still express faith in certain areas of government.

And in case you still had any doubts about who is funding the current elections, the study found that more than half of wealthy households gave money in 2011 for the purpose of electing or defeating a candidate (in comparison to 13 percent of the general population).

We urge all of you fundraisers to take a look at the study yourself. Once you have done so, there is the problem of locating and befriending that elusive billionaire. Definitely, this will be a more difficult prospect for some than for others; in some neighborhoods, they are just achingly thin on the ground. –Ruth McCambridge