Tracking Philanthropy Trends: A Panel Discussion of the Giving USA Report

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Foundation Center West, in partnership with Community Counseling Service (CCS), hosted a panel discussion, Giving USA Review of Results and Analysis: A National Perspective and a Bay Area Perspective on Friday, June 23. CCS is a leading global fundraising consulting and management firm that provides fundraising, development services and strategic consulting to nonprofit organizations worldwide. Frederick J. “Rick” Happy, principal and managing director of CCS, moderated the panel discussion and was joined by: Cindy Goldberg, vice chair, board of trustees, Castilleja School; Erin Hickey, assistant vice chancellor of development for children’s health, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals; Kathy Jackson, CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties; and Preston S. Walton, senior associate vice president, development, University of San Francisco.

Rick began the event by presenting Giving USA’s data on philanthropic giving – both in the Bay Area, and across the US. In 2016, Americans gave $390.1 billion to philanthropic causes. The breakdown of donors is as follows: 72% were individuals; 15% were foundations; 8% were bequests; and 5% were corporations. Rick reported that there is limited growth in philanthropic giving overall, and there are indicators that some forms of giving are levelling off; bequests, for example, are declining. He reported that philanthropic giving has consistently accounted for somewhere around 2 to 2.1% of the American GDP. He gave ideas for ways to jumpstart growth:

  • Nonprofits can make stronger cases for support;
  • They can also expand efforts to promote donor retention;
  • They can cultivate donors more strategically;
  • Donors can better educate themselves, or organizations can help educate them on causes;
  • And the social sector can collect more and better data to better identify areas of need, populations in need, and philanthropic impact.

Rick reported that while the national giving trends indicate some stagnation, the Bay Area is full of active philanthropists and foundations, despite the fact that many residents struggle with housing and cost-of-living affordability. At this point, Rick opened the discussion up and asked of his panelists: as social sector professionals in the Bay Area, what trends are you seeing in regional philanthropy?

Erin mentioned that since the 2016 election, she and her team at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals has seen a jump in the amount of gifts to causes. Kathy and Cindy agreed: now, more than ever, because basic services and rights are imperiled, it is easier for nonprofit organizations to make a case for funding. Preston said that since the election, USF has doubled down on their commitment to their mission – and is a sanctuary school. Cindy said that this acceleration in giving is a silver lining of the outcome of the election.

Rick moved the discussion towards other giving trends, including corporate giving and major donors. The panelists mentioned that corporate giving is changing. Kathy explained that, whereas corporate leadership used to decide to which causes they would commit their business’s philanthropy, now, employees (i.e.: individuals) decide which causes they want to support, independent of their employers. Additionally, organizations are seeing an increase in fitness-related corporate fundraising (e.g.: races, marathons, etc.).

As far as individual donors go, Preston explained that USF has invested in their development team to expand alumni relations and donor retention. Erin explained how important stewardship has been to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. She and her team block off days in the month, devoting time specifically to stewardship. They handwrite thank you notes to their donors, write letters updating them on the use of their gifts, and strategize ways to maintain long-term relationships with them.

The panel discussion culminated in a Q&A session with audience members. You can view the whole event here.