With forces acting on them like the ones listed above, today’s generosity is not your father’s (or mother’s) generosity. Advances in technology and the spread of information, in particular, are responsible for three trends that define what the generosity brand looks like today:
1. The shift from indiscriminate giving to strategic giving
It used to be that people would make contributions to an aggregator of gifts, such as their church or the United Way. Now they’re more likely to do research for themselves and give to a specific cause or group that matches their interest and that they believe will maximize the benefits of their gift. Large foundations and charities, similarly, are drilling down into the data and using new decision models to become more discriminating in their grant-making and gift-giving choices. Targeting has become the name of the game.
Daniel Harrell, senior minister at Colonial Church in the Twin Cities area, told me, “Churches are no longer the brokers of Christian giving. In the old days, you would give your money to the church at large and they would dispense it. Now the giver is in touch with the needs and causes. They have their passions and want their priorities addressed, so they want to manage the giving themselves.”
2. The shift from control over giving by institutions to control over giving by individuals
My long-time friend Tom Addington—founder of Givington’s, an online generosity shopping portal—says, “The consumer is sitting in the driver’s seat, and the entire world of philanthropy and generosity is shifting to that reality. The consumer wants the choices.”
No longer are institutions always in control of where the help goes; contributors are involved too. Some companies are letting customers vote on which causes they will direct monies to. The growth in donor-advised funds and other types of donor-directed giving is one of the strongest trends in philanthropy today.
3. The shift from impersonal giving to personal giving
Alan Gotthardt, managing director of TriniD Capital and author of The Eternity Portfolio, told me, “Most people don’t give because of a strategy. They give because of a relationship.”
He’s right. All parts of the giving and philanthropic process are being pulled to a new north star: personalization. Today the focus is shifting from fighting poverty (impersonal) to helping poor individuals (personal), from battling hunger or disease (impersonal) to helping specific men, women, and children who are afflicted (personal). The Susan G. Komen Foundation is just one group that has figured out how to take advantage of this renewed interest in personalization. They don’t make the pitch for you to shop pink or race for a cure simply to defeat breast cancer; they ask you to do it to support a friend, neighbor, or family member who has battled the disease. They want you to have a name and face in your head and on your heart.
Social media and forms of online communication have helped to enable the personalization of generosity. Tara Russell of Create Common Good explained to me, “Now there is immediate feedback and verification. I can touch, taste, feel now. I want to help this guy in India, and now I can know who he is and where his family’s house is. It’s all very personal.”
Keeping it personal is naturally more motivating. And so the generosity brand keeps rolling.