Posted by: Nathaniel | June 17, 2008

Tracking the downward pattern in philanthropic giving

A number of articles including’s “The Coming Charity Crisis” have pointed out a downward trend in American charitable giving in 2008. Slate’s article notes that:

“In May, the annual gala of the Robin Hood Foundation, an event at which a few thousand hedge-fund magnates and leveraged buyout titans conspicuously display their wealth and commitment to social justice while rocking out to A-list musical guests (Shakira, John Legend, Sheryl Crow), raised $56.5 million, down 21.5 percent from $72 million the year before.”

But, as Lucy Bernholz over at Philanthropy 2173 notes, the real value of the article is that it explores a few other reasons that philanthropy might be trending down, and it puts them in historical context. From Lucy:

“Daniel Gross‘s article has some useful insights:

  • Drops in philanthropic giving and recessions have a long history together;
  • Charitable giving is a “lagging indicator” of economic well-being (bills get paid first);
  • “Swanky” giving and “Salvation Army” giving rise and fall in similar waves

This brings up two interesting questions which I’d like to get people’s opinion on:

1. ARE Americans experiencing ‘disaster fatigue’ right now? The Slate article notes that the upward spikes of giving usually associated with disasters like the earthquakes in China, flooding in the Midwest, and cyclones in Burma hasn’t happened this time around. While I don’t dispute that, I wonder what the reasons might be: how much of it is simply a factor of the economic downward turn? In Burma, a huge part of the coverage was about how Burma wasn’t going to let in aid. That certainly had a dampening effect on my willingness to contribute. In China, there were some spikes, for example on, Earthquake-related giving skyrocketed the amount of money being donated through the site. The Half the Sky Earthquake Relief Fund has raised over $400,000 in the last few weeks. And with the Midwestern flooding, I wonder if its too early to see the full extent of giving?

2. Do you think there’s any negative correlation between giving to presidential campaigns and giving to charity? A huge number of new donors have been giving to campaigns of both Republican and Democratic candidates. Barack alone has raised something like $265 million, just under half of which has come from donors contributing under $200. More than 1.5 million different individuals gave to his primary campaign. I know for me, the money I gave to the Obama campaign depressed the resources I had available to contribute to other philanthropic organizations. I don’t know if this is a large enough contingent to impact national trends, but I do think its an interesting question.

What do others think?



  1. […] Flood Relief Efforts” Posted on June 18, 2008 by Nathaniel Referring back to my post here, I wondered if Midwester flood donations would start to grow. The jury’s still out but […]

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