Philanthropy: Not Even the Same Stream Once

by David Cass

Aug 15, 2013

As NPQ prepared to take on a mapping of changes in the philanthropic landscape, it recognized that this would be informed not only by changes that have occurred but also by the trajectories of that change. In other words, some trends are occurring quickly, almost like a tumble downhill, and others may remind us more of Sisyphus painstakingly pushing a rock up the side of a mountain.Many of the more massive shifts in philanthropy that have occurred over the last twenty years might be grouped under the rubric "disintermediation" (the elimination of an intermediary), and the major force in charitable disintermediation is primarily, but not solely, the Internet.

Philanthropy: Not Even the Same Stream Once
  • There is a long-term trend toward far lower participation which is to some extent obscured by larger gift sizes.
  • More recently we see that those who may previously have given to a combined fund are making their gifts more directly, parking their gifts in some cases in charitable gift funds. This is a trend that began more than twenty years ago, as community foundations saw the numbers of their donor-advised funds growing and United Ways began to see an ever-greater proportion of gifts given as donor directed to a specific agency.
  • Donors are reluctant to pay too high a premium for information that they can get at much lower cost from GuideStar or donor-advised fund managers. The Internet facilitates direct giving by providing easy access to information about charities and ways to give online.
  • Corporate giving is on the rise, but with much of it through in-kind giving of product and services, and much of it directed to the strategic priorities of the corporate givers themselves. Moreover, despite the numbers of corporations engaged in philanthropic giving, corporate giving is as concentrated at the top by large donors as private philanthropy is with the dominance of the likes of Gates and Ford.
  • Much of institutionalized philanthropy is still struggling relatively uncreatively where transparency and accountability are concerned, but that is unsurprising given that it has no market that can react to it in a way that would visit consequences upon it.
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