Be Fearless and Giving USA

20/06/2012 at 11:15 Leave a comment


In case you are not familiar, The Case Foundation has issued a challenge to the nonprofit sector – Be Fearless. They have created a website and tool box to help nonprofit leaders and staff be bodacious and plan for large impact success and failure.

I am a fan of fearlessness – BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals); learning from failure and taking risk. It is refreshing to see a foundation step forward and empower the sector to take chances.

And here’s only one of the reasons why Case’s challenge is so important.  Giving USA has released their annual report on the state of giving in the US.  Based on the 2011 numbers, we have not progressed significantly as a sector. We need to be bold, fearless and try new things – cause doing the same same and getting the same result is chaos – right?

I am always piqued by the Giving USA numbers. Statistics are always given in real value and then “adjusted for inflation” dollars. As far as I know donors and nonprofits are working on the dollars they have today, can spend/give today, cost of doing business today. So why not just say based on inflation-adjusted dollars, giving is declining…because it is. Case Foundation is right – no better time than now to Be Fearless.

Take a look at Giving USA and see if you don’t agree with me and Case that something has to change. Note: To keep this short, my suggestions for fearlessness will be in my next blog post.

  • Adjusted for inflation – in the past 40 years, total giving increased 2.6%. Commentary: I know we as fundraisers are working darn hard. Obviously not hard enough if in 40 years we have only increased giving little more than 2%.
  • In 2011, the percentage of disposable, personal income devoted to individual giving was 1.9% – the same in 2009 and 2010. Commentary: I get the US is in recession but the same giving is and will not support the people most negatively impacted by the economic downturn. (i.e., The 99%) Food banks are packed with more people than food. Basic human needs in our communities are increasing not decreasing. Holding steady doesn’t cut it. Even a high of 2.4% in 2005 showed a limited commitment to giving and we see it is declining. Yet the US is the most charitable country in the world. Is it ever enough? How can we make it so?
  • In 2011 individual giving rose .8% in inflation-adjusted dollars.  Commentary: While $217.79 billion dollars of individual giving is a lot of money, I would call less than a percentage growth flat. No wonder our communities and families are struggling more than ever.
  • Giving through bequests rose 8.8% based on inflation-adjusted dollars. Commentary: So sometime in the past the nonprofit sector started asking for planned gifts (probably a bold, fearless move back then) and now those donors have died, may they rest in peace and posthumously thank you for the legacy you planned before you passed.
  • Giving by Foundations and corporate philanthropy both declined as adjusted for inflation. Commentary: Foundation endowments took a hit and some have yet to recover. On the other hand there has been an increase in requests for support. We have read about some corporate sectors which have done tremendously well; paid huge bonuses and grown their workforce. Focusing philanthropy from these two segments is more important than ever as are the relationships the nonprofit sector has.

As I said, my next blog posts will be based on the Case Foundation Be Fearless campaign five steps to think differently about our work.

  1. Make big bets and make history (A Chicago Burnham reference to no small plans)
  2. Experiment early and often (Another Chicago motto I know well)
  3. Make failure matter (Become a learning organization)
  4. Reach beyond your bubble (See Brian Uzzi’s work on networks)
  5. Let urgency conquer fear (The only constant is change)

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

Entry filed under: A Better You, Fundraising, Nonprofit fundraising, Resources You Can Use!. Tags: , , , , , .

From Tomatoes to Chocolate – Go Organic & Fair Trade Be Fearless Fundraisers!

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