Foreign Policy Blogs

Cultivating New Giving

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I was writing on the worst the economy had to offer.  Fast forward to now – the world is involved and my local newspaper is reporting on the expected dip in non-profit donations.  The economy, coupled with the newly released Matthew Bishop/Michael Green book on Philanthrocapitalism, has me wondering – how do you cultivate new gifts and sustainable giving?

In an ideal world, every child would be using their “Spend, Save, Share” banks from an early age and “giving back” would be an engrained social norm.  The positive evidence that this may be the trend is coming from the Millennials values of social change, an increase in organizations addressing financial education for youth, and the increase of access to giving tools on social networking sites and through Web 2.0 technologies.

However, while these trends might indicate that the next generation will be more likely to give their time and money, how does a non-profit reach all demographics right now?  Is it more sustainable to look for 99% of donations in 1% of wealth or to attempt to change behavior for those who are not engaged in philanthropy?  Does the location matter and if so, how does a city become more philanthropic?  At a country level, how does government's social funding (for health care, education, etc) affect the public's opinion on supplementing this funding with their own money? 

A city's typical givers might be in their 60's, 70's, and 80's – yet, much wealth is accumulating among people in their 30's, 40's, and 50's.  If these folks (and companies run by these folks) are not already pre-disposed to giving a portion of their wealth to charity, how do you reach them?  How do you reach cities with sprawl, where young professional families do not live in a central downtown core?  How do you reach inside the mighty corporations, with windfall profits, who do not subscribe to the belief of giving away 1% of their pre-tax profits?

These are not new questions, per se, but the time is right to be asking them again. In many places, creative solutions are being offered – professional organizations and networking encourage the discussion, giving circles are established among friends, and web-based applications making giving possible from your own home.  However, the audience to be reached is not those already informed, but those who need to be.  It's a creative challenge – and one that will take “local variations on a theme” to be successful.