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Podcast | Is Generosity Changing? Challenging Giving Trends with Jeffrey Cain

Giving USA's 2023 report on Charitable Giving, a cornerstone in tracking philanthropic trends, notably observed a 10.5% drop in giving year-over-year in 2022. While this data provides valuable insights, it's crucial to consider its alignment with the experiences of fundraising professionals and the true reflection of current giving trends. 

In this episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, our Chief Strategy Officer Trent Ricker engages in a thought-provoking discussion with Jeffrey Cain, who authored a series of compelling articles challenging Giving USA’s perspective.

Jeff is a former Marine Corps combat motorcycle operator who became CEO of CrossFit, Inc. and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC. His diverse background in philanthropy, publishing, education, and public policy gives him a unique view of the evolving world of giving. 


Why the Giving USA Report May Not Tell the Whole Story 

Fundraisers often turn to the Giving USA annual report to better understand the philanthropic landscape. Jeff has long used it as a benchmark, even if it didn’t always align with what he observed in the field. When the 10.5% decline was reported in 2022, he wanted to dig a little deeper.

The first thing to understand, he says, is that human behavior is complex, yet the economic modeling used in reports must be simple. So, trying to capture human generosity takes a lot of work. Moreover, the report looks primarily at charitable giving that runs through official channels, such as the IRS.

But what about the other ways people give? What if generosity isn’t declining but changing?

Consider crowdfunding. Approximately $17.2 billion moves through crowdfunding sources like GoFundMe and more direct, peer-to-peer giving each year. Yet, according to Jeff, most reports on philanthropy trends don’t account for this form of giving. Nor do they count other small private acts of charity, like rounding up your change at the grocery store or donating to your nephew’s baseball team.

Jeff believes Americans are shifting from traditional giving to more community-based giving. In the Internet age, grassroots and peer-to-peer giving allow people to give immediately and directly to those in need. For instance, about 60 million Americans now live in intergenerational homes. They may have to reduce their giving because of increased household expenses, but have they actually become less charitable? Isn’t providing for a family member a significant act of generosity? 


A Challenge to Fundraisers 

As we adjust to the new norms of generosity, there are two questions fundraisers should ask. First, where might you benefit from gifts that aren’t traditionally tracked? These gifts may account for the differences between national reports and what you’re recording. Try to do an honest evaluation. If there’s an increase in local peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives or more lump-sum donations through Facebook, pay attention to these giving methods.

Second, how can you more deeply connect with the donors giving to you in these ways? They’re essentially giving to your organization anonymously, so it’s important to find opportunities to position your cause as worthy of their continued support.

If ways people express generosity are changing, nonprofits must be more observant of the shifts within their files and curious enough to ask questions. That way, they’ll ensure they remain agile and responsive to the changing currents of philanthropy.

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Connect with Trent Ricker

Connect with Jeffrey Cain

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