How Americans View Philanthropy: 3 Things Foundations Need to Know

Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 1:35 pm
CoF Author Council on Foundations

It’s a headline we’re hearing from many places these days: Trust in institutions is at an all-time low. So it was good news for philanthropy when a study released earlier this month showed that nonprofits are generally very trusted.

On the other hand: The study, What Americans Think About Philanthropy and Nonprofits, also showed that Americans don’t really understand how philanthropy works – or how it impacts their everyday lives. It’s a good reminder for all of us in the field that we need to do a better job telling our stories.

We hope you’ll join us in exploring the survey in depth in a May 9 webinar with Una Osili, the associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which released the study.

In the meantime, here are three key takeaways from the study for foundations to consider in their work:

  1. New forms of giving are on the rise: In particular, younger individuals were more likely to see philanthropy as including giving through crowdfunding campaigns, giving circles, and impact investing than older adults. Given the Council’s focus on expanding charitable giving, we’re encouraged to see this.
  2. Big support for perpetuity: While most people expressed no opinion on how foundations give, of those who did have an opinion, 80 percent preferred the perpetual model to the spend-down model. (Read more on this issue in our strategy guide “Balancing Purpose, Payout, and Permanence,” developed in partnership with the National Center for Family Philanthropy.)
  3. Who is a philanthropist? It’s complicated: Even though 60.6 percent of respondents self-identified as “donors,” only 20.6 percent considered themselves “philanthropists.” Jon Bergdoll, an applied statistician at the Lilly School, said this disconnect shows a lot about the way Americans view their giving. “People really think about their donations the way they think about paying a monthly bill: There’s not a lot of planning, and it’s not a big part of their identity,” he said. “But when they think about philanthropists, those are people whose giving is a big part of their lives and their public identity.” How can we build a more expansive and inclusive understanding of our field?

We look forward to digging into these issues and more in our May 9 webinar; sign up now!

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on all
2021-2025 Strategic Direction
Expanding Philanthropy's Opportunities to Thrive
Narrative Shift