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Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011

Report from Indiana University researchers addresses need to 'grow philanthropy'

Oct. 28, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new report by Indiana University faculty members evaluates the state of philanthropy and sets forth recommendations for increasing giving with measures that include improving relationships with donors, strengthening public awareness and reaching new audiences.

Adrian Sargeant

Adrian Sargeant

The report, Growing Philanthropy in the United States, was released today (Oct. 28). It addresses the fact that philanthropic giving in the United States has remained static for decades, despite the best efforts of fundraising professionals and nonprofit organizations.

The authors are Adrian Sargeant, the Robert F. Hartsook Chair in Fundraising at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and a visiting professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington; and Jen Shang, the world's only philanthropic psychologist and an assistant professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

They draw on existing research and the June 2011 Growing Philanthropy Summit, which brought together 30 influential leaders from the nonprofit industry for discussions in Washington, D.C.

Sargeant and Shang write that demands on charitable organizations have increased markedly. The number of natural disasters has tripled since the 1960s and the number of armed conflicts has almost doubled. Governments in the U.S. have withdrawn from providing social welfare, putting more responsibility on the nonprofit sector. Yet charitable giving in the U.S. remains stuck at around 2 percent of after-tax household income, the same as the average level for the past 40 years.

"Forty years of increasingly sophisticated fundraising practice, the development of planned giving vehicles, the appearance of the Internet, and the rise of new digital channels have done nothing to move the needle on giving," they write.

The report organizes its conclusions and recommendations in four broad categories:

  • Enhancing the Quality of Donor Relationships -- Recognize that donors are individuals, move to long-term measures of fundraising performance, focus on building supporter loyalty, develop an integrated approach to fundraising and address turnover in the fundraising profession.
  • Developing Public Trust and Confidence -- Enforce reporting requirements, contest the myth that it's possible to have "zero costs" for fundraising, use the Web and other tools to educate the public about charity costs, develop better performance measures and self-regulation.
  • Identifying New Audiences, Channels and Forms of Giving with Strong Potential for Growth -- Encourage monthly and asset-based giving and improve bequest fundraising, make better use of social media, engage with young people, challenge the wealthy to plan philanthropy.
  • Improving the Quality of Fundraising and Development -- Develop and support fundraising research, redesign training, certification and academic qualifications for fundraisers, create a "sales force" to disseminate fundraising information, educate board members.

In the coming months, the authors intend to prioritize the recommendations and assemble working teams to develop and implement action plans to make the ideas reality.

Support for the report comes from Hartsook Institutes for Fundraising, and Blackbaud, a fundraising software provider. The executive summary is available online at and the full report is at