Regardless of how you answer the question of whether 2020 starts a new decade or ends the old one, there’s something about the symmetry of 2020 that particularly encourages me to look ahead and think about what the year might bring that relates to the work we do at Philanthropy Ohio.
As I’ve made my way through research studies, media articles, opinion pieces and books, I’ve concluded that the charitable sector is less trusted by the public and increasingly criticized by academics, policymakers and thought leaders. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer reports that only 50% of Americans trust nonprofits “to do what is right” – and that’s down 2 points from the prior year. A BBB poll is more dramatic, reporting that fewer than 20% highly trust American charities.
Similarly, numerous articles and books published in the last few years are increasingly critical of the roles philanthropy plays in American society, whether the focus is on their outsized voice in policy discussions (Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform and the Politics of Influence) or a call to “step up our game. . .by raising its voice to advocate for policy outcomes” that strengthen democratic practices and institutions, which Daniel Kemmis pleads for in his second edition of Philanthropy and the Renewal of Democracy: Is It Time to Step Up Our Game? And then there’s Rob Reich’s book, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How it Can Do Better, where he teases out the reasons for and against the existence of foundations in perpetuity and their tax-advantaged status. The Anand Giridharadas book captures the sentiment as well: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.
And, finally, continued debate about the operations of donor advised funds (DAFs) illustrates a decided lack of trust. In addition to many pro and con opinion pieces, there are also the proposed California bill that aims at improving transparency and accountability through imposing reporting requirements and minimum annual contributions and the forthcoming IRS regulations on private foundation use of DAFs that illustrate this point. The variety and number of critiques of the entire sector can impact the regulatory efforts of government and the giving patterns of individuals.
And we’re already worried about decreased giving by individuals, with recent studies showing a marked decrease in the number of Americans who give to charity, down to 53% from 66% just 20 years ago. Research shows that individual giving dropped 3.4% from 2017 to 2018 and another 4.6% as of September 2019. Here in Ohio, where individuals gave $5.98 billion (we’re working on this year’s Ohio Gives report now), those decreases represent significant dollars. Given changes brought about by the 2017 federal tax law, I wonder if giving will decrease further as tax incentives for charitable giving erode for most itemizers, which leads to a key ask to our members of Congress to support a universal charitable deduction to encourage giving. Fears of a recession or economic correction create uncertainty among donors, nonprofits and foundations that may impact decisions on giving as well.
Amid this somewhat gloomy look at what’s ahead are at least two spots of brightness. One, there’s an increased focus in philanthropy on diversity, equity and inclusion. Our own work exemplifies this, through creation of two Equity Peer Groups following our Putting Racism on The Table series offered in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus as well as our own adoption of diversity statements and framework here at Philanthropy Ohio. Nationally, the focus on racial justice and equity is evident at our umbrella national organization, United Philanthropy Forum, and at Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund. Some of our members have embarked on this work as well: the Raymond John Wean Foundation, Licking County Foundation, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the Community Foundation of Lorain County to name just a few.
Second, a continuing focus among our members to increase impact in local communities, whether through grantmaking, advocacy or collaborations. Our members are attending learning events, convening around policy issues and accessing knowledge resources in numbers that show a strong commitment to increasing their knowledge and skills to be stronger, more effective grantmakers – which helps us achieve our mission: to lead and equip Ohio philanthropy to be effective, powerful change agents in our communities.
What do you see ahead for philanthropy? Comment here and stay tuned for how the year progresses.
Claudia Y.W. Herrold
Senior Vice President, Communications & Public Policy