Charity: water, Scott Harrison’s nonprofit organization, is at the fore of a tough task for the nonprofit sector: convincing the Millennial generation, underemployed and often dubbed apathetic compared to their predecessors, to give some of the little money to charity. For a sector overly reliant on generating money from an aging Baby Boomer population, getting young Millennials donating to nonprofits early is a key to long-term sustainability. That’s why many charities are working to develop a more interactive, customizable, and transparent giving experience.
“The Millennial generation is about identifying with a cause,” says Marc Chardon,the CEO of Blackbaud, a software developer for nonprofits that tracks giving trends. “[Donating] has become very personal and local.”
In charity: water’s case, that means encouraging supporters to be not only donors but also fundraisers. Half of the funds generated by the organization come from an online fundraising platform in which individuals create their own personal fundraising campaigns on behalf of the nonprofit. Often, people use the platform on their birthdays and ask others to donate their age in dollars instead of providing gifts. Sometimes the fundraisers are more inventive—in September a woman raised $30,000 by promising to swim across the San Francisco Bay naked, while an 8-year-old generated $15,000 by eating rice and beans for 25 days and promising her family would donate the savings made from buying cheaper groceries.
“Many charities go out and just ask people for money,” Harrison says. “We ask people for their voice.”
It’s an approach that seems to resonate with Millennials. The average age of mycharity: water’s users is 33. The fundraisers have generated almost $20 million total since the platform was launched in 2009, mostly through small donations of less than $100. The organization’s pledge to use all donated funds on fieldwork (private donors fund organizational costs) also assuages young people’s tendency to distrust formal institutions. In a post-recession environment where charitable giving has shrunk, charity: water has increased its donations each year since its founding.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the most philanthropic folks on the planet. To date the men have given away $28 billion and $17.5 billion respectively.
And Buffett’s and Gates’ partnership in generosity is by now well-known. In 2006, Buffett pledged to donate 10 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The gift, then valued around $31 billion, is given in annual increments of 5% of the remaining pledged shares. So far, more than $9.5 billion has been transferred—and largely given away.
One of Buffett’s few requirements is that each installment be spent within a year of receipt. So the 2011 payment of about $1.5 billion must be granted out in 2012. His other stipulations are that use of his gift must meet all legal requirements of charity and that Bill or Melinda must be alive and active in the foundation for the pledge to hold.
Buffett’s $1.25 billion contribution in 2009 accounted for slightly more than 50% of the just under $2.5 billion given by the foundation in 2010. So that year, by Forbes estimations, Buffett gave $751 million to global health and $157 million to education, while Gates gave $734 million and $154 million, correspondingly.
In total, Forbes estimates that Gates has given around $8.3 billion toward health and $4.6 billion toward education. Buffett’s health total is about $3.9 billon and his education number is around $1.1 billion.
With the U.S. election nearing, some of America’s wealthiest argue that they would give more to charity if they paid lower taxes, as they surely would under proposals put forth by Mitt Romney and in the House-approved budget drafted by his running mate Paul Ryan.
Such an assertion is directly contradicted by scholarly studies. Studies indicate that when taxes go down, people give less generously. Lower taxes mean that what scholars call “the price of giving” goes up; the value of the tax deduction per donated dollar is less.
The notion that the wealthy will pay out in voluntary contributions what they don’t pay in mandatory taxes may seem an attractive proposition to some charities, but it just isn’t so.
While there may be more discretionary money in the pockets of millionaires, it tends to stay there. As a matter of fact, the wealthy give a smaller percentage of their income to charity than do moderate- and low-income people.
The social psychologist Paul Piff, who studies the effects of income on personal behavior, told The Chronicle of Philanthropy last month that “the more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become and the less attuned to the needs of other people.” He has shown that wealth can make people “more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people.”
Much of this has been known since 1990 when Terry Odendahl published Charity Begins at Home; wealthy Americans tend to support the nonprofit institutions that they themselves use. That includes elite universities, museums, operas, and performing-arts groups as well as other cultural institutions and some hospitals and medical facilities. Few would consider these institutions to be on the frontline of charities dealing with today’s most pressing problems.
A new study on the generosity of Americans confirms the suggestion that the least religious are also the stingiest about giving money to charity.
The study released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity.
Northeast residents, with lower religious participation, was the least generous to charities.
The study was based on Internal Revenue Service records of people who itemized deductions in 2008, the most recent year statistics were available. By focusing on the percentage given to charity from discretionary income — the money left over after necessities are paid for — the study aimed to remove variables such as the differing costs of living around the country. Churches are among the organizations counted as charities by the study.
A study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, based on Internal Revenue Service records, provides an unusually rich look at giving by geography and income level. The study uses the most recent data available and provides detail about the relative generosity of US states, cities, towns, and even ZIP codes based on the share of discretionary income their residents gave.
The Chronicle’s study examines taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more. They donated a median of 4.7 percent of their discretionary income. Altogether, they provided $135-billion to charity, nearly two-thirds of the $214-billion donated by all individuals in 2008, according to “Giving USA,” the benchmark of American giving.
Among other findings:
The rich aren’t the most generous. Low-income people give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities. People who make $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more.
As for the 1 percent: Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.
Religion has a big influence on giving patterns. Regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not.