In a column in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Holly Hall discusses the eerie similarities between the 1930s and the period covering 2007-2010.
According to figures compiled by the Chronicle, there were 753 charitable gifts of $1-million or more in 2007. By 2010, that number had been cut to less than half -- to 364. The totals of those gifts went from $32.2 -billion to just $4.1-billion.
That pattern closely replicates the over-the-cliff drop in large donations between 1931 - 1945, according to historical data compiled by Robert Sharpe, a planned giving consultant who studied annual reports from various fundraising drives during the 1930s.
It took years, Hall points out, for major gift giving to recover after the Great Depression. She suggests that the outlook for capital campaigns might be especially dim, since they depend on large gifts from wealthy donors.
Nell Edgington, of Social Velocity, must have sensed this when she wrote Rethinking the Traditional Capital Campaign.
I have trouble with the idea that our tough economic times have been a match for the Great Depression, or that the decline in large charitable gifts will last as long. After all, we are in the midst of another Gilded Age, and minting billionaires at a pretty rapid pace.
But I do think that large, monolithic fundraising campaigns of any kind are doomed. There are a lot of forces at play besides just economic ones. I was convinced of this when I heard some very smart people at a GuideStar event back in January define the new normal.
Giving itself is changing, partly mirroring the dramatic shifts in the ways we send and get information. The Great Depression was in part a product of the shifting sands of the modern age stripping away the last signs of the 19th century.
Today we are experiencing the full bloom of a post-modern age that may make the 20th century seem as antiquated as the people of that century thought the 19th was. Marshall Berman titled his influential book on modernity, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. That was back in the 1980s. How prescient he was and more ironic than he knew.
What do you think? How bad is the decline of large donor gifts? How long will it last? What are the implications for your organization?
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