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How does charitable giving reflect the economy?

charity

Find a variety of business stories in the impact of charitable giving on the economy.

Nov. 15 marks National Philanthropy Day, an observance promoted by a related trade group and not a bad day to start planning a fourth-quarter charitable giving story. 

Checking in on corporate giving is a must; local social, science and cultural institutions no doubt depend on support from your area’s corporate leaders.  Here’s a recent report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy that notes companies are giving these days of their employees’ talent in additon to cash; that might be a fresh angle to pursue – what sort of mentoring or volunteer groups do your region’s employers support? 

Another area of interest:  Corporate matching of workers’ charitable gifts.  This is a perk prized by employees and charities; what are trends among your region’s employers?

Crowd funding.  I’d say this is the freshest topic of the year; online sites like CrowdRise allow individuals to create fundraising events for causes they cherish.  Ask area non-profits how they are benefitting from crowd-sourcing and what the drawbacks are.  After all, many crowdsourcing sites take a cut of the action; would non-profits prefer a check sent directly to them?  Or is the net effect of extra publicity and participation a boon to fundraising? 

Patterns.  We often focus on how much giving goes on in a community of individuals or corporation, but perhaps this is a good time to analyze patterns.  How are contributions being directed now compared to pre-recession or early recession economies?  Are more social welfare and basic-needs groups receiving support, compared to cultural organizations or other “discretionary” causes?  And how have dollar amounts trended?  Are charities relying on high-volume, low-dollar contributors, or is aid coming mostly in the form of large lump sums from fewer donors?   Sorting out these patterns, even anecdotally via questions of non-profit executives, will provide interesting insight into need and assistance in your region.

Scams.  This is a perennial; check with your state’s attorney general, local law enforcement, the regional postal inspector and others about trends in charitable-giving scams.  This year, predictably, fake donation sites for Hurricane Sandy victims are rife, as CNN reports.

Marketing.  Giving USA is a project of the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University; they offer a variety of reports and surveys for sale and likely will share selections free of charge with journalists.  The center is just out this month with a survey, in partnership with Bank of America, of charitable giving among wealthy households; among other things it finds that about one-quarter of these high-net-worth households plan to increase giving in coming years, with about half planning to hold steady.  It’s noteworthy that interest in donor-advised funds or foundations were attracting more interest; a sign perhaps that contributors want more control over the use of their philanthropic dollars — this might be an interesting angle for a giving story. 

The report also addresses motivations for charitable giving and, interestingly, why donors say they stopped giving to particular causes.  I’ve often thought this was a little-explored facet of fundraising; the marketing campaigns that strike the right note without turning off prospective donors.  For example, there’s a heart-rending animal-welfare ad that runs on area cable stations – you’d think it would make soft-hearted viewers snatch up thier checkbooks, but I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that the ad is so painful people snatch up their TV remotes instead and change the channel. If you take up a stoary about how charities market themselves – what sort of appeals work, compared with those that don’t — the Center for Philanthropy report offers interesting context. 

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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