What’s to know about philanthropy? It's about who you know...with.

What Matters

Generosity is like breathing. What is there to know about something as natural as giving to someone else? All people do it, most without reading a treatise or consulting research. But even an automatic process like breathing can benefit from training to fit the purpose of the activity, be it for athletic performance or meditation. A natural and instinctive act, generosity is a useful subject of study, not least because it is such an integral part of who we are and how we relate to each other.

Surprisingly, we don't focus much on the kinds of knowledge we use in doing philanthropy. That we are knowers is what distinguishes us as a species, thus the Latin sapiens (knowing) in Homo sapiens. We are always swimming in different bodies of knowledge, which makes it difficult to step outside the streams of knowledge that envelop us. Like generosity, knowing is so natural that we typically look to special institutions like schools and colleges to mark places where we do it consciously. It is in such places that we reflect on what we know outside the flow of all the doing when we are too immersed in using knowledge to think about how we are doing it and how we might do it differently.

But regardless of our formal preparation, we engage in discussions about how and why to exercise our philanthropy all the time. We argue, inform, consult, investigate and share experiences about the way we give and about ways we think giving ought to take place. But as we get more serious and formal in our argumentations and recommendations, where does the relevant knowledge come from? What kind of knowledge do we call on? What kind of knowledge should we call on?

These questions matter if we are concerned about making a difference in the world. The influential business thinker, Roger Martin, writing with colleagues in the Harvard Business Reviewclaims that:

…most leaders haven’t thought much about realms of knowledge and what problems they can solve. Expect that to change as enterprises, and societies, take on increasingly complex and large-scale challenges — and leaders are increasingly judged on the thinking that goes into them.

To make sense of the landscape of knowledge, we can, like Martin, turn to Aristotle and distinguish among three kinds of knowledge. Techne, which is the practical knowledge we use to do things, can help you run a board meeting with diverse constituents and multiple agendas in a way that aligns with your organization’s mission. Episteme is scientific knowledge often capturing law-like universals, which can help you understand how your board’s composition reflects the populations you serve compared to similar organizations, drawing on patterns observed in board dynamics more generally. Finally, Phronesis deals with ethical knowledge and making judgments about how we ought to conduct ourselves. Here you might make judgments about how to include formerly marginalized groups on your board, and whether your current policies and practices create barriers you need to re-evaluate in light of the “why” that animates your mission.

Martin illustrates how leaders called on these three different kinds of knowledge during the pandemic’s multiple crises. The challenge for a leader is to know which kind of knowledge is called for but also to provide a synthesis of how they all come together to make sense of current circumstances, while also setting a course for the future. In the words of Ken Chenualt, channeling Napoleon, a leader needs to define reality (calling on the capacity to synthesize different kinds of knowledge) and give hope (crafting a way forward based on the synthesis).

But focusing too much on the individual knower overlooks how knowledge is inextricably intertwined with community. Synthesizing different kinds of knowledge usually means bringing different communities together, rather than expecting an individual to create something on their own, out of thin air.

The Hewlett Foundation commissioned research to find out how professionals who work in foundations gather knowledge. They found that the community of peers plays the leading role. More than publications, media, and universities, foundation professionals rely on each other to understand what is going on and what works in the field.

You might say that this study illustrates the adage that it is not what you know but who you know that matters. This adage is often put forward to minimize the importance of substantive knowledge compared to having “connections.” A more charitable interpretation of the adage is that it reflects the insight that knowledge is a communal resource.

Knowledge is produced in community, used in community, and passed on to future generations in community. This is easily overlooked today as digitized content across the Internet makes it seem that knowledge is displayed for easy consumption, like a common product. But for what purpose and for whose benefit are you learning on your own? As you click on that educational video, is there not a community in your mind? (Maybe machines can replicate elements of communal learning, but that is a matter for another time.)

Think about the scientific process that has generated a record of cumulative discoveries that have transformed our world and the ways we live. In the vast transnational scientific ecosystem, communal credit is still the currency of science. The peer-review process, a communal check on the integrity of proposed discoveries, still stands as the core process for assuring the integrity of the scientific-technical establishment.

Wanting to be better informed about philanthropy often leads us to become involved with others who share our interests. It might be a professional association of fundraisers or evaluation professionals, a donor group inspired by a common faith, or one keen to tackle a particular disease. Perhaps it is more informal, like a reading group or a giving circle. In each case, we are joining a community with our curiosity, committing our search for knowledge to a journey of discovery with others. This is what I think of when I am fortunate enough to teach or learn in a “course” – a communal movement toward better understanding.

The courses I have taken the most from have been those where I have given the most, often facilitated by someone genuinely devoted to supporting the assembled community of learners. Hopefully, we have all had those special teachers whose generosity of spirit went far beyond whatever compensation they received for showing up, whose guidance transformed our ability to comprehend the world and ourselves.

There is much to know about philanthropy, and the more curious you are the more the horizon of possibilities expands for you as you associate with others. As we advance knowledge by learning in community, we may find even more interesting connections between our natural proclivities to give and to know. I am interested in exploring if and how giving and knowing are related to each other, perhaps in ways that might yet surprise us. What about philanthropy are you curious about? And who will you join to pursue this interest?

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

Top 10 Tips for Fundraisers in 2022

Top Ten Tips

We’ve rounded up the top learnings from 2021 to set fundraisers up for a successful 2022.

1. Educate yourself about Donor-advised Funds.

A new study from Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy provides new illumination on DAFs and their space in the philanthropy landscape: Grants from DAFs gave more total dollars to education and less to religion from 2014 to 2018 compared to the distribution of total U.S. giving as identified by Giving USA. Education received 29% of DAF giving, but only 14% of total giving in Giving USA for that period. In contrast, grants to the religion subsector represented 14% of giving from the DAF sample, but 31% percent of total giving in Giving USA.

The distribution patterns by DAFs track more closely with the trends of high-net-worth donors, who are associated with giving to education and arts at higher levels than the average donor. Granting patterns from DAFs are relatively stable, with each type of nonprofit receiving a similar percentage of total DAF giving from year to year. Roughly 60% of grant dollars from community foundation DAFs stayed local, and nearly one-quarter of grant dollars not given to local organizations went to education.

2. The pandemic lives on in giving trends, especially for women.

It will come as a surprise to no one that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are playing a part in giving. A report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute finds that while giving by all household types increased between May 2020 and May 2021, both single women and married/partnered couples gave less to charity compared to before the pandemic and compared to single men. This trend differs from previous research from WPI and others, which has consistently shown that single women and couples are more likely to give than similarly situated single men.

3. Digital fundraising is key to future-proofing.

Charitable organizations worldwide report that digital fundraising capabilities and strategic financial planning are among the most crucial skills they need to remain resilient. The findings appear in the sixth volume in a series of reports, Future-Proofing Nonprofits for the Post-Pandemic World, The Voice of Charities Facing COVID-19, Volume 6.

4. Women are a growing influence in household giving decisions.

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute recently released Women Give 2021: How Households Make Giving Decisions, which explores charitable giving decision-making in the general population. The report analyzes the first new data on this topic in 15 years, and finds that 61.5% of couples make giving decisions together — a number that has declined from 73.4% in 2005. When one partner in the household decides, women are more likely to do so.

Women Give 2021—which is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—found that couples who decide together about charitable giving are typically older and have children, while younger couples are more likely to decide separately or have one partner make the decision for the household. The report suggests this may be due to couples marrying later and entering the relationship with preferred charitable causes, in addition to shifting gender roles within couples. Among sole deciders, individuals have varying thresholds for how much they will give without consulting their partners; this amount is much higher for men compared to women.

5. Crowdfunding campaigns attract different donors than traditional campaigns.

Charitable Crowdfunding: Who Gives, to What, and Why?examines who crowdfunding donors are, their motivations for giving this way, how they are different than more traditional charitable donors, and the activities they support. Among the significant findings? Crowdfunding donors tend to be more diverse, younger, less religious and more likely to be single, compared to traditional charitable giving donors. Also, nearly 20% of donors typically give to social justice causes. In comparison, 27% of those who give through crowdfunding support social justice causes.

In Gender and Crowdfunding, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that women crowdfunding donors tend to be younger, have higher levels of education, and are more concentrated in the Western U.S., compared to women who do not give to crowdfunding campaigns. The study also examined what might hold women donors back from using their influence to promote generosity through crowdfunding. For example, they are willing to share about causes and projects on social media but are reluctant to directly ask the people in their networks to give. Women also say that crowdfunding can highlight and help donors connect to projects, but they express concerns about transparency and accountability.

Another study shows that donors of color are more likely to engage in informal giving, volunteering or giving through crowdfunding sites. Thirty-four percent of donors of color said they give through crowdfunding sites in a typical year. About 90% had heard of crowdfunding, and 52% said crowdfunding makes it easier to directly support causes by giving.

6. Awareness of diverse populations’ philanthropy is increasing.

People of color and others from other diverse communities have always been deeply engaged in philanthropy in a wide variety of ways. That has often gone unrecognized, but awareness of diverse philanthropy, its importance and scope is expanding. A recent study by the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative found that on average Muslim Americans give more to charity than non-Muslim Americans. And a new study of donors of color strengthens understanding of the philanthropic perspectives and practices of diverse communities.

Racial and social justice causes also are a growing part of the philanthropic landscape. The study found that 16% of American households gave to racial or social justice causes in 2020, an increase from 13% of households in 2019. Philanthropic giving to racial and social justice causes increased across all demographic groups, but the growing impact of crowdfunding and mutual aid demonstrate how donors of color are helping to lead shifts in individual giving patterns.

7. Giving is up…and down.

The Giving USA 2021 report from Giving USA Foundation and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy showed an encouraging picture of giving in 2020. Total charitable giving grew 5.1% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $448.66 billion contributed in 2019. Adjusted for inflation, total giving increased 3.8%. Another study of giving by affluent Americans showed that generosity from this group was steadily high.

However, new research shows that for the first time in nearly two decades, only half of US households made a charitable gift in 2018. That is a drop of almost 17 percentage points from 2000, when 66.2% of American households gave charitable donations.

8. The market is well-primed for giving.

The stock market finished in positive territory at the conclusion of 2021. Research from Giving USA Foundation and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy reveals a strong correlation between the performance of the S&P 500 in a calendar year and charitable giving the next calendar year. The S&P 500’s positive showing in 2021 bodes well for charitable giving from individuals and grants from foundations in 2022.

9. It’s never too early to talk about a planned gift.

More millennials are writing wills, which could mean this is a good time to talk with them about planned giving. A study from the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners revealed significant interest in planned giving due to the pandemic.

10. Here comes crypto.

While many of us are still asking “what is crypto?,” activity in 2021 has shown it’s a viable fundraising option. Crypto Giving Tuesday raised $11 million for 1,000 charities. For example, one nonprofit has taken full advantage of this new trend:  Charity:water’s current crypto campaign has raised nearly $5 million and counting.

Looking for more ways to prepare for 2022? Check out the weekly podcasts from The Fund Raising School.

New Research Briefs on Donor Motivation Available Now

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducted a series of research on the landscape of charitable giving and drivers for donor engagement, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of The Giving Environment report series is to provide data and analysis to better understand the causes and implications of the decline in donor participation shortly before the significant societal changes that took place in the United States in 2020, while also exploring the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the movements for social and racial justice on individual giving decisions moving forward. Three just-released studies provide new insights about demonstrating donor impact, fostering empathy and the relative strength of competing donor communications channels. Explore the research.

survey research on US donor motivations

In Memoriam: P.A. Mack Jr.

We are saddened to share that former Indiana University Trustee and IU Center on Philanthropy Board of Governors Member P.A. Mack Jr. passed away recently. As an IU Trustee, Mack made the motion to approve our Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies degree. A noted philanthropist, he established a graduate fellowship and undergraduate RISE scholarships at our school and was honored by the school with the IU Indianapolis Spirit of Philanthropy Award.

Mack was an Indiana University alumnus, having earned an M.B.A. from IU. He held several key executive positions in banking, served as executive director of the Bayh for President Campaign Committee, and was chief of staff to U.S. Senator Birch Bayh. He was chairman of the National Credit Union Administration Board, president of AARP Federal Credit Union, and owner of Mack Farms in Illinois.

A long record of dedicated service to IU included serving as a member of the IU Foundation Board of Directors and on the boards of advisors at IU Indianapolis, IU Southeast, and IU South Bend, as well as many other IU leadership roles. He received many awards and honors for his service to the state and the university, including the Partners in Philanthropy Keystone Award and the Sagamore of the Wabash. Mack was honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters from IU and received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2019 in recognition of his distinguished service to the Indiana University Board of Trustees.

Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy to hold conversation about Philanthropy and Social Justice

History reflects how environmental injustices are related to social dynamics such as racism, classism, and gender discrimination. Please join us for a conversation surrounding the racial and socio-economic dimensions of exposure to environmental hazards in the United States. The conversation will feature Dorceta Taylor, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Professor of Environmental Justice, Yale School of the Environment.

Register Now

Dorceta Taylor

Smithsonian program on Black philanthropy to feature Tyrone McKinley Freeman

Who Counts as a Philanthropist

Who Counts as a Philanthropist? A Conversation About Black Philanthropy is hosted by the National Museum of American History's Philanthropy Initiative. Historians Tanisha C. Ford, Ph.D., and Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Ph.D., will discuss historically overlooked philanthropic contributions of African Americans. Drawing on their groundbreaking scholarship, they will examine how narrow interpretations of philanthropy have contributed to a false perception of African Americans as solely recipients of philanthropy. Ford and Freeman are Research Associates of the museum’s History of African American Fundraising Collecting Initiative. They will speak about the intertwined history of philanthropy, business, and social justice with hosts Modupe Labode, Ph.D., curator in the Divisions of Political & Military History and Cultural & Community Life, and Amanda B. Moniz, Ph.D., David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy. 

Register here