Saturday, August 07, 2010

The question of philanthropy

These last few weeks I've had the opportunity for a few trainings at work about fundraising - a couple of them looked at a report (Giving USA 2010) on the history of philanthropic giving in 2009 and gave their interpretations of that report. While the two perspectives were very different, there were a few insights that were shared at both classes that I find very interesting.

First, when you look at the total amount of money that is donated to philanthropic causes (which includes religious institutions), about 75% of it comes from individuals - not corporations, federal or private grants or foundations. Just in case any of you were wondering if the money you give really does make a difference - it does! AND, even with the recession, 2009 was the third year in a row that philanthropic giving in the US topped $300 BILLION! I don't know about you, but I find that number a bit mind boggling to wrap my head around.

Second, when you look at the amount of money that individuals contributed, a large percentage of that money was contributed by only a handful of people - VERY wealthy people (Bill Gates, for one). So maybe that $20 I give isn't make that big a difference in comparison, but when I have billions of dollars at my personal disposal, I'd like to think that I'll do something positive with it. Which leads me to another piece of information that I've heard referenced several times in the last few weeks - the billionaire's challenge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are calling other wealthy people and challenging them to give large portions of their wealth to philanthropic causes - they even have a website,, where you can see what pledges have been made, by whom, and even read their personal letters that explain to whom they give and why. Some of the names are well known, others not as much, but each have their reason for giving and encouraging others to give.

It got me thinking - why do I give to the places I do? How do I determine how much I "can afford" to give? Generally I give to places that seem important to me for one reason or another - I give to my own place of business (since I thoroughly believe in the mission), I give to my church, I give to organization fighting for causes I believe in, such as gay rights in the church and in our country, I give to environmental organizations that are doing work I believe makes sense, etc. If I actually look though my check book and credit card statements to compile a profile of all the places I give money, it's interesting to see how varied it is and how much money over all I end up giving. It's mostly a little bit here and another little bit there. Now I'm wondering if i wouldn't be better giving more money to fewer places, making more of an impact. I don't know.

So now let me pose this question - do you give? Do you know why you give and how you decide to whom to give how much? Please share!