Trends in Philanthropy

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A key component in developing Philanthropy Ohio’s strategic framework was to learn about national trends in the philanthropic sector. I interviewed seven regional and national thought-leaders and reviewed numerous reports and studies. I’ve now brought this learning forward with updated information on high-level trends which grantmakers need to pay attention to.

Changing role of government
Regardless of political persuasion, a fundamental shift is occurring in the role of government; specifically, the traditional compact between government, philanthropy and nonprofits. These are changes in the fundamental nature of the public/private partnership.

One observer describes this moment as the “Uber-equivalent” for philanthropy, and one which philanthropy is not prepared for. With this change afoot – who is the investor in community problem solving, who sets the context, who makes the rules, how is philanthropic capital managed and deployed?

Following federal and state policy
The 2016 presidential election is often described as a wake-up call. More foundations are now engaging in and funding policy and advocacy efforts as a result. Keep an eye open for how national issues play out locally with impact on people and communities (health care is a particularly stark example). Watch carefully for state laws that begin in one place and quickly move to other states.

Data, data, data
There is concern about the diminished role and capability of government in collecting, analyzing and sharing high-quality data and in supporting research. We know that equal access to good data is critical to understanding and tackling complex issues. But who has the data, who has access, who has the capacity and knowledge to utilize data?

Changes in tax law
Mixed messages galore. The Giving USA 2019 report on charitable giving (based on 2018 numbers) estimated Americans gave $427.71 billion in contributions. Total contributions grew by 0.7% in current dollars but declined 1.7% adjusted for inflation.

Giving by foundations was up and had a record-breaking year; giving by corporations was also up. But giving by individuals was down, and giving by bequests remained flat. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that “fewer Americans are making room in their budgets for charity, and nonprofits are increasingly relying on the affluent for support.”  

As Giving USA observes, these trends and numbers are shaped by a mixture of countervailing economic and policy factors.

Role of the mega-giver
The current crop of mega-donors – think billionaires – grab headlines. What are their behavioral attributes? They generally want to do their own thing, are not usually collaborative and typically don’t want to learn from the field.

At the same time, the rhetoric around mega-givers doesn’t quite match the reality of this “new philanthropy.” Some research suggests little difference, for example, in the leanness between new and legacy philanthropy. One respondent feels that “as they grow, mega-givers start to look a lot like the institutional grantmakers they initially disregarded.”

Rise of the millennial donor
Stereotypes of millennials abound. The research, though, sheds factual light on how they are engaging in philanthropy. Millennials are less attracted to organizations and associations, and less tied to “place.” They are impatient with traditional approaches to problem solving and have a greater willingness to pose challenging questions to preceding generations in the process.

Pursuit of equity
In a field well-known for short attention spans, the pursuit of equity is an issue with staying power. That said, respondents concur that moving towards equity is a journey; and it is much more difficult, challenging and complicated than people realize.

Listening to those we serve
Funders are increasingly incorporating engagement of community voices in their planning and decision making. Getting feedback from the people being served is described as a powerful, transformative act, and one that can be a great source of innovation.

Jeff Glebocki
Founder & Lead Advisor of Strategy + Action/Philanthropy
strategyplusaction.com

Jeff served as Philanthropy Ohio’s strategic planning consultant and is a Professional Partner member.

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