By nature, Americans have always exhibited a significant level of philanthropy, showing again and again a willingness to support a broad range of causes. Historically this has been especially true during moments of national crisis.
However, in the wake of the current Covid crisis, studies show an overall decline in charitable giving. Many parts of the country are experiencing stalls in economic growth, and uncertainty has lessened the capacity for the kinds of ‘cash’ donations many individual families previously provided. It is clear this crisis has led to a natural reflection on our mortality and on issues and causes we hold particularly dear. We are all examining, with greater depth, our values.
Throughout this crisis, we have seen donors place a greater emphasis on focusing their philanthropic efforts to causes and organisations most closely aligned with their deeply held values. Increasingly, donors want to affect long-term, transformational change, not only in their annual giving but especially in their estate plans. This value-based approach creates opportunities for non-profit organisations to clearly articulate the values they represent and to be able to reflect the transformational and societal impact donors are focused on.
Covid and societal upheaval have led people to consider their mortality, having conversations with family and advisors about how best to create a legacy for future generations. In fact, searches concerning the basics of wills and trusts are 67 per cent higher now than at any time in Google’s history. We have seen a significant uptick with interest and questions from our own supporters about estate planning and anecdotal evidence suggests that estate planners and financial advisors are operating at capacity. This increased interest in how we prepare our estate for our heirs has also dramatically increased interest in how our estates can make a significant community impact. Not just for now, but for years to come.
Strategic donors want to effect long-term, transformational change. An organisation’s impact on larger issues, and its congruence with a donor’s values, are more important than ever. At the San Diego Public Library Foundation, for example, our donors have been very clear that they want to know how we are providing equitable access that creates opportunities for all communities for years to come. Do programs have lasting impact? Are philanthropic investments addressing systemic, infrastructural issues? Are issues being addressed from the broadest and deepest perspective? An analogy to these questions perhaps rests in the phrase, ‘are people being given a fish, or being taught to fish’. Donors now want to mesh those questions with their own long-term values, and are increasingly looking to their estate plans as their most prudent philanthropic investment tool.
So, what does this mean to you and me? Non-profit and philanthropic organisations must effectively communicate the values they represent. Listen to your donors and the values that are important to them and be clear on the impact your organisation is making in meeting those values. Be bold in communicating how your organisation can be part of long-term transformational change. Donors want to effect change. Now is an opportunity to show them how you are an instrument of that change.
Patrick Stewart is CEO of the San Diego Public Library Foundation.