Saturday, May 31, 2008

Do mega-gifts increase overall philanthropy?

Ross Perot Jr. claimed that, although the national economy is sluggish, charitable giving in Dallas has never been more robust. He then backed this up with a $50 million gift to the Museum of Nature & Science.

The problem with Perot's claim is that mega-gifts like this can easily mask a declining philanthropic environment. In a city like Dallas -- where Boone Pickens, Harold Simmons and others secure national headlines for their philanthropy -- it is easy for the general public to assume that charitable giving is up.

My concern, which I have seen borne out at Central Dallas Ministries, is that this gives many donors an excuse to avoid contributing: the attitude can almost be that "the mega-rich are taking care of that," followed quickly with a quieter "and they should."

For example: Central Dallas Ministries has raised over $25 million through public and private sources for the first phase of our capital campaign. Some of our donors have not realized that these funds are highly designated and do not help us to pay for operations.

As we have often joked in our office, "we could have marble desktops but be unable to afford the light bill."

Thankfully, overall fundraising is up at Central Dallas Ministries by more than 20% this year. This may not be the trend at other organizations: we benefit from a highly public profile.

Not all organizations are as fortunate, even though they are seeing the same increase in demand for services that we are -- the nation's food banks are reporting facing higher costs but feeding more people. At CDM, we have seen nearly 40% more people than at this same time last year.

What are you seeing at your organization?

Is fundraising up? More importantly, is fundraising up more than demand?

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