Not without philanthropy: Insufficient but more necessary than ever

What Matters

Philanthropy is too small, too fragmented, too often subject to the capricious whims of unelected individuals. And, it is too problematic when it is used, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cautioned us, “to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

We had philanthropy among us since before we learned to till the land as a species, so clearly, generosity alone is not sufficient for the kind of social betterment we seek. Our recognition of the injustices that have been laid bare by the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black men on the streets of America demand more.

Moreover, in the context of today’s policy landscape, the giving of money represents about two percent of the U.S. GDP and less than that in other countries. Money from philanthropy trails fees for service and government support as a source of revenue for the U.S. nonprofit sector that we often closely identify with philanthropy, but which employs only about 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. (Of course, there are non-monetary manifestations of philanthropy ranging from volunteering to expressing one’s public beliefs, to being kind to strangers. Without these our civic space would be much diminished, not to mention our humanity.)

Yes, philanthropy may help develop new ideas for reform or even revolution, and support innovations that lead to policy improvements in specific areas, or fund local experiments that can be scaled by government or commerce.

Philanthropy did warn us and help prepare us for the pandemic, and it helped create the discipline of public health over a hundred years ago. It also supported the research and writing on race that is now topping our reading lists. It also played a role through funding and volunteerism in movements like Black Lives Matter that have agitated effectively to be heard. And, in all these instances, philanthropy played a supporting role, not the starring role.

So, it is understandable that when we hear calls for systemic change, to face the racism and structural inequality that betray America’s founding values, few expect philanthropy to lead the charge. These are big changes, the kind that take place in tandem with world wars, depressions, and wholesale social upheaval.

It is when governments, commercial giants, military leaders, and the propaganda might of our newest media technologies shift their orientation to work for the kind of significant change that gets at root causes.

I hope you heard David Rubenstein speak to his patriotic philanthropy in our Perspectives on Philanthropy series, explaining his request that Congress remove Robert E. Lee’s name from Arlington House on Arlington National Cemetery, which he helped refurbish. It is exhilarating to see the consensus about removing the vestiges of Confederate triumphalism from our public spaces and the breadth of agreement that they are indeed toxic to our civic lives.

We have less agreement on the calls for social justice by many of our youth. David Brooks and others have argued that this is not the time to obsess about the symbolism that he sees as the obsession of the social justice activists who walk our streets and campuses. He argues that the quasi-religious social justice movement claims that “viewpoints are not explorations of truth; they are weapons that dominant groups use to maintain their place in the power structure. Words can thus be a form of violence that has to be regulated.”

I do agree that cancel culture is problematic, and there are echoes of thought policing that we have seen in earlier revolutionary periods, about which the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal remain energetically vigilant. However, this is also the point at which we should remember philanthropy being necessary for peaceful change. As we debate which measures will be sufficient to make this time different, to actually change policy, remember the necessity of philanthropy even though it will not be leading the charge.

How is philanthropy necessary? Without generous interpretation of each other’s arguments, without truly interested listening, we are just competing to seize the instruments of the state to coerce those who disagree with us. This method seems less effective and less sustainable than building the arguments, gathering the evidence and resisting creatively.

This, of course, was how the movement for racial justice prepared and was able to rise to the occasion when the pandemic revealed many truths about how risks and rewards are distributed in our society. On this theme, I will be conversing with our alumnus Derrick Feldman on his study of youth movements when he joins us later this month for Perspectives on Philanthropy.

A few days ago, I listened to Cornell West on The University of Edinburgh’s Living Gratefully podcast. He inspires us as he reminds us of the power of hope and love in sustaining the possibility of justice in Black communities. So, philanthropy will not bring you to justice, but you might get lost without it.

We saw a vivid depiction of the embrace of goodwill toward all, including one’s oppressors, who are not leading authentic or satisfying lives, in one of the early events we held with our Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy. It was Race Matters: Faith and Philanthropy in the African American Community.

The conversation illustrated how the American founding values were nurtured by those who were denied them, but who, in turn, did not seek to deny the full dignity they sought to others. It has become clear to me, with too much delay, that the American project in general and American philanthropy, in particular, cannot be understood without a grounding in race and the Black experience.

You may have grand plans that are sufficient for wholesale change that rearranges society to lift up the dispossessed, but how sustainable and attractive will they be without philanthropy by their side? We have had experiments that have fulfilled “dreams of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

This is sadly what happened with the “socialist” revolutions of the 20th century; those leading the vanguard to erase the privileges of the bourgeoisie ended up arrogating to themselves (after purging their close allies and friends) brutal privileges that led to some of the darkest moments in recent human history. But as we engage the movement for change, we should not prejudge our moment as a simple echo of historical antecedents. We need to be generous listeners. After all, listening well is increasingly recognized as the hallmark of great leadership.

So when Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, asks Are You Willing to Give Up Your Privilege? subtitling his trenchant piece “Philanthropy alone won’t save the American dream,” he argues that those with privilege today will need to give it up if we are to move toward justice. But I would also add that those with privilege today have a lot to gain.

Living in a world of more equity where one has less power to subjugate others might actually be a preferable way to be. As the Rev. Dr. King also said, “you may tower high in philanthropy, but it you have not love, your charity means nothing.”

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

Charitable giving showed solid growth in 2019

Giving USA 2020 key findings

The new Giving USA 2020 report (published by Giving USA Foundation) shows the strength of Americans’ charitable support and provides baseline context for the current uncertain philanthropic environment.

American individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations gave an estimated $449.64 billion to U.S. charities in 2019, placing it among the highest years ever for charitable giving, according to findings in Giving USA 2020: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2019.

Total charitable giving rose 4.2 percent measured in current dollars (2.4 percent adjusted for inflation) over the revised total of $431.43 billion contributed in 2018. Measured in current dollars, giving in 2019 reached the highest dollar total to date. Adjusted for inflation, total giving reached the second highest level on record, just slightly below the all-time high dollar amount achieved in 2017.

Learn more about Giving USA 2020

New report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute explores giving via technology

Women Give 2020

A new report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), Women Give 2020 – New Forms of Giving in a Digital Age: Powered by Technology, Creating Community, offers new research focused on how women give more than men, even as technology disrupts philanthropy.

The report encompasses research that shows broad gender differences in how women and men use the internet and social networks, and how they give online.

Women Give 2020 finds that women are giving more gifts and a greater proportion of total donated dollars on tech platforms, women’s and girls’ causes receive substantially more online support from women donors, and technology enables women to give according to their preferences.

The report, which is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also finds that building community—both online and offline—and adopting a broader definition of philanthropy are key for nonprofit organizations and online platforms to better appeal to women donors.

“Everyone can demonstrate they have the power to be the change they want to see in the world through philanthropy thanks to technology and social media,” said Jeannie Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. “For years, our research has shown that women give more than men. Now, we know the pattern continues via technology, enabling women of all backgrounds to connect and build powerful, trusted online communities that support broader causes as well.”

Women Give 2020 takes a novel approach by using data and interviews from four partner organizations (GivingTuesday via Charity Navigator, GlobalGiving, Givelify, and Growfund via Global Impact) to develop case studies based on more than 3.7 million gift transactions. Three overarching themes emerged from the overall data:

  • Women give more online gifts than men and contribute a greater proportion of online dollars overall. Across all four case studies, women give greater numbers of gifts than men (nearly two-thirds of gifts, across platforms). Women’s greater number of donations means they collectively are giving more dollars than men through each platform studied.
  • Women give smaller online gifts than men and give to smaller charitable organizations than men.
  • Women’s and girls’ organizations receive substantially more support—online and offline—from women donors than from men donors. Three of the four case studies examined funding for women’s and girls’ causes, with women giving between 60-70 percent of online dollars to women’s and girls’ organizations, depending on the dataset.

The following three findings are specific to one or two of the individual data sets analyzed in the study and should not be generalized as representative of results across all four platforms.

  • A broader definition of philanthropy can help a movement spread globally and engage a diverse set of donors—appealing to women in particular. Expanding the definition of philanthropy to be more than giving money, such as giving time, skills, or testimony, can help a movement spread globally, fueled by a diverse set of donors.
  • Compared to traditional methods of giving, technology enables donors to give in the way they would like and to discover organizations that align with their values and interests; platforms can also support online donors by curating causes and by building trust with donors. A case study provides an example of curating and presenting these choices for donors.
  • To appeal to women donors, platforms and organizations must build community online and continue to support in-person connections for donors. While technology means giving is increasingly taking place online, case studies show that in-person community remains essential for engagement in philanthropy.

Women Give 2020—the newest in a series of signature research reports conducted annually by WPI—builds upon a body of research that shows the many ways in which gender matters in philanthropy. Across the platforms studied, women collectively give more using digital tools compared to their male counterparts. The findings suggest a critical opportunity for entrepreneurs, fundraisers, and the broader philanthropic community to design online experiences that cultivate a broader definition of philanthropy and better serve a diverse group of donors, particularly women.

Learn more about the intersection of gender, giving, and technology

ARNOVA: research to practice

Patrick Dwyer presenting at ARNOVA

At the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, conducting relevant research on the philanthropic sector is crucial to furthering understanding not only for future research, but for practitioners who work every day to make the world a better place.

Every year, school faculty, staff, and doctoral students gather at the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) conference, which showcases scholarly research from across the U.S. and around the world on philanthropy, nonprofits, and social change.

This research covers many different topics and themes that are elaborated in the program schedule (which is over 100 pages!). Attending the conference is a whirlwind of activities: poster and paper presentations, seminars, keynote speeches, presentation of awards, committee gatherings, and much more.

Topics that the school faculty, staff, and students discuss are wide-ranging and touch on many different aspects of philanthropy. To illustrate, here’s a sampling of various presentation subjects that those affiliated with the school research, wrote or co-wrote, and presented on in November 2019:

  • Impact investing
  • United Way and community foundations
  • Fundraising appeals
  • Volunteering
  • Giving from U.S. households before and after the Great Recession
  • Donor-advised funds
  • Disaster giving
  • Diaspora philanthropy
  • Religious giving
  • Gender differences in goal setting
  • Gender and giving across communities of color
  • Motivations for Giving Pledge individuals versus couples
  • Citizenship and social service provision
  • Donor behavior in the 21st century digital age
  • International politics and civil society
  • Policy issues and nonprofits
  • Nonprofit advocacy and activism
  • Giving to women’s and girls’ causes
  • Role-modeling charitable giving
  • Political party affiliation and giving in China
  • Accountability, effectiveness, evaluation, and program outcomes

There actually aren’t enough hours in the conference to attend all of these talks. But they do give you an idea of: 1) the sheer amount of research produced by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy research team, faculty members, and graduate students, and 2) the wide variety of research interests and reports that the school produces every year.

There are multiple positive effects of producing this extensive amount of research.

For one, it improves the philanthropic sector as a whole. Research informs practice, and practice guides research. Many of the school’s faculty members work with practitioners and nonprofits to devise research projects and agendas. (For example, learn about Dr. Laurie Paarlberg’s work with the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance.)

The research produced can help inform thinking about and for donors, both individual and institutional, nonprofit practice, fundraising current trends, public policy and its impact on philanthropy, and so much more. As assistant professor Dr. Shariq Siddiqui says, “we do research for a purpose. We do research because we want to make a difference in the world.”

Secondly, this research informs classroom work across the bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. programs. Want the most updated information about giving to religion, or civil society in Egypt, or donor behavior and motivations for giving? Well, faculty have most likely completed that work themselves! If there’s not a current course around a specific topic that a student is interested in, then that individual can develop a readings course with the faculty member who is an expert in that topic.

So, the ARNOVA Conference gives a sampling of the current research from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. There’s much more to uncover if you dive into the world of the philanthropic sector and research on the critical “third” sector.

Dive into our researchLearn more about our faculty members and their research interests