…Patrick Rooney has sounded the alarm about a picture of giving in this country that’s so unbalanced it challenges at its essence our understanding of philanthropy.
Patrick Rooney, for those who don’t know him, is the associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis and an author of the annual Giving USA study. He is quoted in Bloomberg as saying that too many mega donations—you know, the ones in excess of $80 million, the ones we will probably never see—tend to disproportionately serve the personal interests and values of an elite set of benefactors.
Rooney says that the increases in last year’s individual giving as was recorded in the 2014 Giving USA report came as a result of multiple gifts of $80 million or more. “The gains and losses in giving are increasingly driven by a smaller percentage of the population,” said Rooney.
Rob Reich, associate professor of political science at Stanford University, takes it a bit further when discussing this trend that’s symptomatic of wealth inequality. “The favored charities of the wealthy are gaining in share in the philanthropic economy. The total amount of money given away by the very wealthy is going up,” he said, “not because they’re giving away a greater share of their income, but because their total income and wealth itself has grown.” He says that post-recession economic gains have largely been concentrated in the top income tiers, and these donors tend to give to higher education, medical research, and cultural institutions.
This reality—that both philanthropic givers and receivers mirror the wealth gap—really should not come as any shock. That said, those of us without the odd eighty million dollars to give should probably try to focus their gifts on the smaller organizations without huge endowments that support the less well-heeled.