Reflection and prognostication abound following the release last week of the Giving USA annual report on philanthropy. GG+A’s webinar last Tuesday provided an overview of the 2015 data and an analysis of the role of nine-figure gifts. The data are critically important, and our firm long has been a supporting partner of the assessment. Fundraisers and volunteer leaders use the information to understand how their organizations fit in the larger context of giving in the U.S., and to guide their philanthropic strategies to more fully support their missions.
The headline is positive: Giving in the United States continued to rise last year, following retrenchment during the recession of 2008 and 2009. For the first time in a decade, we have seen double-digit giving growth – 10.1 percent – over the last two years combined. Good news, to be sure, and not surprising, in many respects. Giving levels correlate with stock market value, federal tax laws, and public policies, such as rules governing non-profit status. Yet, rules, regulations, and tax deductions do not tell the whole story.
Underneath the data are interesting, nuanced questions involving the growing engagement of donors as partners in charting the course of mission-driven organizations. This is true for donors of all levels, but particularly so for principal-gift investors. During the past several years, we have witnessed strong and sustained levels of transformative gifts by individuals – single gifts of $100 million and more – directed to bring about lasting change. Increasingly, these investors are not only asking for corporate-style metrics to measure the impact of their gifts; they also are contributing in substantial ways to the strategic vision to advance education, healthcare, arts and culture, and human welfare.
Our clients now are undertaking sophisticated approaches to developing true long-term partnerships with volunteers and philanthropists. They understand that a palm-up, outstretched hand is wholly insufficient – and that there is a great deal of wisdom and insight to be gained from passionate, successful donors. Leaders are developing careful planning paths that both maintain absolute integrity of their organizations’ direction and integrate key volunteers in the journey. Doing so ensures that the best thinking is brought to bear on large-scale philanthropic initiatives and that organizations and their supporters are entirely aligned in a shared direction well before fundraising conversations begin. The results of this collaborative approach – respectful, thoughtful, and inclusive – will be measured in subsequent years’ data and in lives forever enriched and improved.
John Glier is President and CEO of Grenzebach Glier and Associates, a global philanthropic management firm headquartered in Chicago and London. He posts monthly for LinkedIn. This post was originally published on Linked In.