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Adriene Davis
Center on Philanthropy at IU

Last modified: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gates Foundation to help fund groundbreaking research by Center on Philanthropy at IU

$750,000 matching grant will support national study aimed at increasing nonprofits' effectiveness

May 18, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University a $750,000 matching grant to help fund data collection in 2007 and 2009 for its signature research project, the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS).

COPPS is the largest and most accurate study of charitable giving by U.S. households over time ever conducted. A nationally representative panel study, it looks at giving and volunteering by the same households over time and across generations as families mature, face differing economic circumstances, are affected by public policy shifts, and encounter changes in their family size and health, among many other factors. Scholars and nonprofit professionals can access COPPS data and findings free of charge online in downloadable formats.

"We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this visionary grant," said Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy. "COPPS is a catalytic project with enormous potential to enhance nonprofits' effectiveness and sustainability throughout the nonprofit sector.

"Our researchers are focused on understanding the core beliefs and influences that drive charitable giving over time here in the United States. We believe that understanding why people give and what they hope to achieve with their charitable contributions benefits both funders and nonprofits," Tempel said. "We're hopeful that the Gates Foundation's support will encourage other funders and donors to step forward and allow this important research to continue."

Philanthropy is a powerful force for positive change in society and in people's daily lives. According to the Giving USA Foundation, Americans gave nearly $250 billion in 2004 to charitable organizations that meet vital needs in their lives and communities, ranging from immediate relief services for the most vulnerable people to higher education, job training and life-saving medical research.

COPPS helps nonprofit professionals understand how people in a variety of circumstances give and volunteer and examine how and why changes in personal, political, social, economic and other circumstances influence those decisions. It also shows how household-level changes impact amounts given, causes supported, time volunteered and types of volunteer work done.

COPPS makes it possible to see correlations between giving and each societal crisis, policy initiative, tax law revision, demographic shift or national economic change. It will allow policy makers to ground public policy debates in solid research. It also will give nonprofits critical information to fulfill their missions, allow donor advisors and wealth managers to assess giving patterns of their clients' peers, and advance scientific knowledge of giving and volunteering behavior.

"The COPPS data are a unique resource in our sector," said Lowell Weiss, senior policy and advocacy officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We feel COPPS has great potential for informing public policy -- and encouraging policies that promote effective and generous giving in America."

The nature of a longitudinal panel study makes it expensive to conduct. The total cost of data collection and management for two waves of COPPS research is $1.5 million. The Gates Foundation grant will serve as lead support to enhance the center's ability to raise another $750,000 in matching philanthropic funds to support COPPS data collection in 2007 and 2009. The Center also will raise additional funds for subsequent analysis of the data and to make it available to nonprofit organizations and scholars nationwide.

Findings from COPPS will help the nation's 1.4 million nonprofits strengthen their operations in several ways. They can advance their fundraising by more closely tailoring their solicitation efforts to various types of donors, focusing them on people who are most likely to donate and more effectively persuading donors to give. Nonprofits can predict the effect of changes in the economy or public policy on giving, expand their volunteer bases beyond traditional sources and benchmark the success of their efforts.

COPPS helps nonprofits understand the impact of age or generation, marital status, income, wealth and other characteristics on giving and volunteering and learn what influences giving and volunteering behaviors. It is conducted in conjunction with the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a landmark study begun in 1968 that now includes nearly 8,000 families and 1,200 pieces of information on each household. Some families have been interviewed for as many as four generations.

Analysis of COPPS data has already yielded valuable insights that nonprofit fundraisers can use to make their solicitation strategies more effective. These include:

  • Single men give less on average and are less likely to give than single women or married couples.
  • Recent immigrants' giving initially is primarily informal (i.e., to family and friends), but their formal giving to nonprofit organizations increases with time spent in the United States.
  • Adults whose parents give are much more likely to be donors. Parents' religious giving stimulates the religious generosity of their adult children.
  • Giving patterns of married couples change with each phase in their life cycles.
  • Older Americans' religious giving kept pace with their income growth, but their giving to secular causes did not.

Brief reports on key COPPS findings are available at Working papers on several topics are available at Nonprofit professionals and scholars who would like to access the COPPS dataset may contact Heidi Frederick at

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to reduce inequities and improve living conditions around the world. In developing countries, it focuses on improving health, reducing extreme poverty, and increasing access to digital information. In the United States, the foundation seeks to ensure that all people have access to a great education and to digital information. In its local region, it focuses on improving the lives of low-income families. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and Co-chairs William H. Gates Sr., Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates. More information is available at

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is a leading academic center dedicated to increasing the understanding of philanthropy and improving its practice through research, teaching, public service and public affairs programs in philanthropy, fundraising and management of nonprofit organizations. A part of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), the center operates programs on the IUPUI and IU Bloomington campuses. More information is available at