The holiday season brings many ways to give and receive generosity. To me, generosity is a virtue defined as willingly giving away your time, money and attention – without expectation of anything in return. This feeling is a hallmark of the season. People are nicer, give grace a bit easier and share with others. It is one of the main reasons I love December.
For nonprofits, it is also the season of giving. It kicked off with Giving Tuesday and will continue through the end of the year. On average, 30% of all nonprofit donations are received during December.
This is why I’m so excited about two new start-ups. First is Give As We Grow, led by amazing social entrepreneur Kate Knight at the Phillips Foundation. It is a robust and kid-friendly digital platform for elementary-aged children to learn generosity. It includes free games, a family giving journal, a resource library and much more to stimulate family-driven conversations about generosity. Based on recent research, 55% of Americans are generous today because their families instilled it in them at a young age. It is a great resource for the social sector to share proactively with their donors, volunteers and families to spark conversations around giving.
Second, The Generosity Commission was created to reimagine generosity by “commissioning new research, analyzing trendlines, conducting a national conversation and making policy recommendations.” Like me, they have been concerned by recent reports that may indicate we are experiencing a “generosity crisis.” In 2021, the formal volunteer rate (i.e. those who volunteer formally for an organization) experienced its largest decline. In 2022, for the third time in the last 40 years, the giving rate to charity declined after adjusting for inflation. For this reason, the mandate of The Generosity Commission and all its partners is an important one. We need to better understand how current macro trends are influencing generosity and find ways to promote and encourage giving and volunteering.
To delve deeper, we want to share our highlights of the latest generosity trends. In a fascinating and hot-of-the-press report, Understanding Generosity: A Look at What Influences Volunteering and Giving in the United States, we saw a few pieces of data that stood out:
- Educational attainment is the strongest predictor of volunteering and has a high impact on giving.
- Women are more likely to volunteer and give, resulting in a gender gap.
- People in rural households are more likely to volunteer, and people in suburban households are more likely to give.
- People who live in states with higher poverty rates are more likely to volunteer and give.
- Giving increases with an increased concentration of small nonprofits and decreases with large nonprofits.
- Volunteering increases with more congregations, but giving does not.
We captured the overall findings below at-a-glance.
- Most Americans see themselves as generous but have expanded their definition of generosity to include less formal channels than traditional nonprofits. For example, Hattaway found that four in five Americans report donating to causes or individuals. As an example, people booked “fake Airbnbs” in Ukraine to lend their support for locals. In just two days at the start of the war, 61,000 nights were booked and nearly $2M was “donated.”
- Most Americans give because of altruism – they want to help people in need (72%) and contribute to causes connected to them (47%). Most are motivated to give so they can show support and influence change on issues that connect to their values and passions.
So, what does this mean for the social sector? What can we do in our fundraising and volunteer management efforts to encourage engagement and counter the trends? While more research is coming to help guide us, here is an initial plan of action:
- Double-down on efforts to tell your story through messaging connected to the donor instead of through an organizational lens. Donors and volunteers today prefer less transactional relationships and want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Focus on inviting donors to join your mission. For example, a simple change of phrase from “Here is what we do …” to “Join us in …” can transform your nonprofit’s story into an engaging invitation.
- Rethink your donors and volunteers by evaluating your database and cross-pollinating. Are you missing any key demographic groups? Are you doing events for parents and families? Are you including both spouses of married couples in your database and addressing both individuals in your communications? Are you only allowing formal volunteering versus informal volunteering? Have you asked volunteers to donate and donors to volunteer?
- Reframe your messaging around your vision, mission and values, and your theory of change. Have you shared your organizational values with your donors and volunteers? Have you invited donors and volunteers to become advocates?
We love everything The Generosity Commission and Give As We Grow is doing to point us to a future that continues to allow Americans to embrace their generosity all year round. To learn more, please join The Generosity Commission newsletter and download the free Give As We Grow app. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on these giving trends and how your organization is nurturing generosity.