Philanthropy Blog: Summer Reading in Philanthropy

August 23, 2017

The benefit of a late summer vacation is that it’s not too late to post a summer reading list. In the field of philanthropy, there is no shortage of information that comes across our desks. From white papers to blog posts to full-length books, information management is a near constant task. So how do we stay current and what do we find the most useful for advising clients on charitable giving? Throughout the year, we read annual reports, news articles, publications from grantees and other research in issue areas including health and human services, the environment, education and the arts. We’ve also been reading a number of publications this summer which help us better understand the how and why donors give.

Use of Donor Advised Funds

Learning more about how the philanthropic sector is evolving and evaluating the impact of various charitable giving vehicles can help donors better achieve their goals. Both the 2017 Giving Report from Fidelity Charitable and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s What Donors Want reveal significant insights into how donor advised funds are being used to advance charitable giving. For example, the Chronicle article concludes that while the popularity of donor advised funds has soared, little has changed about why donors give. The article posits that donors are “still driven by the aspirations, hopes, fears and love of others as they’ve always been.” Charitably-minded donors have not changed, and are making greater use of this vehicle to help grow their giving.

The numbers back this up, with $22.3 billion in contributions to donor advised funds in 2015, leading to record grant making of $14.5 billion. Of further note is the fact that independent research demonstrated that funds at the largest supporting organizations collectively distributed 14% of their assets in 2014. Fidelity Charitable’s report also outlines a number of trends on how their donors give, noting that growth of $1 million grants outpaced grants overall in 2016, and that major gifts (greater than $50,000) account for 64% of all gifts. Finally, nine new organizations made the list of most popular charities given to by Fidelity Charitable fund holders, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the International Rescue Committee, showing how a donor advised fund can be used to respond to national and international trends and issues.

Trends in Multi-Generational Giving

We’ve also been spending time this summer reading up on trends in family philanthropy and particularly in multi-generational giving. The National Center for Family Philanthropy’s (NCFP) recent Family Case Study talks about how to evolve a family philanthropy to develop engagement by and involvement of younger generations. It cites a practice we often use for our clients, which is the tandem use of a donor advised fund and a private foundation. Particularly useful in that case study was a sample profile from the foundation highlighted, which outlines a set of “desirable characteristics” for up and coming foundation leadership, not solely relying on age as the only factor to consider when thinking about engaging a next generation in a family’s philanthropy. We read this in tandem with the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s report on Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement (commissioned by the Surdna Foundation), which gathered reflections from seven board chairs and CEOs. This verified much of what NCFP discussed, as well as what we’ve learned in our own advisory practice, that formal governance structures ensure continued family engagement, that advance planning helps make the onboarding process more successful, that trusted professional staff and non-family board members can bring additional expertise and leadership, and that experiences like site visits and grantee presentations can connect those involved in a foundation more directly to their giving.

Spending the summer reading up on best practices in philanthropy allows us to be well-versed in the myriad of ways donors can make an impact through their charitable giving. It also cleared up my vacation bag for a true beach read! See you in September, rested and ready to jump in to the fall giving cycle and prepared to bring all this new knowledge to bear on end-of-year giving!

About the Author

Gioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services.

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