Sean Stannard-Stockton at Tactical Philanthropy has had a couple interesting posts in the last few weeks about the “low hanging fruit” in improving philanthropy. The argument is basically while there are big challenges and debates to be had (such as the questions of metrics, which we tend to come around to here on DGW quite a bit), the sector needs to focus on the basics.
I completely agree. When you take even a quick look at the state of American philanthropy, the numbers speak for themselves. Something like 65% of households under $100,000 give to charity. In 2007, American charitable giving reached $306 billion dollars, $229 billion of that coming from individual citizens. All totaled up, individual donors give about 6x as much as private foundations.
This giving happens when good people hear about bad situations and are given an opportunity to do their part; it happens when neighbors talk to neighbors and friends talk to friends. I agree entirely with the notion that there is immense value that can be added to these dollars simply by helping people ask a few basic questions like “what issues matter most to me? What organizations address those issues? etc.”
Here’s the thing. If the questions are simple, figuring out the right context in which to ask them isn’t. Where are the institutions that are dedicated entirely to helping average small donors ask and answer the basic questions with profound implcations for their giving?
Its not just a question of creating a new platform for increasing the ease of giving – although thats part of the picture. Its about developing programs and institutions with a value proposition explicitly focused on small donor engagement and education. We’ve experimented with pieces of this through our Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern, in particular through the Youth Leadership in Connective Philanthropy program and contributions to the Chicago Global Donors Network. These programs utilize the higher education infrastructure that already exists for better donor education, but to really do this right, its going to take a multi-tiered, multi-sector organization focused on adding value to individual giving.
The idea that every moment of passion, indignation, excitment that compells someone to give their time, talent or money to a cause is an incredible opportunity to set someone on a path of lifetime commitment is the idea that drives this blog. Its the vital center of doing good well. But we’ve got a long way to go.