Their investment portfolios may be slumping and their jobs less secure, but a majority of Americans who give to charity still plan to donate as much this year as they have in the past, according to a new survey.
More than 52 percent of donors said their gifts would be on par with 2008, while just 17.5 percent planned to give less.
But many Americans are still undecided about their plans for giving this year: Thirty percent of respondents said it was too soon for them to know how much they would give.
That leaves a great deal of room for the economic climate, as well as the effectiveness of fund raisers, to shape donors’ giving patterns this year.
Conducted in January by Cygnus Applied Research, the survey polled 17,365 people who had given in the past to charity. The respondents donated an average of $11,490 last year.
Most people in the survey said they had been touched in some way by the recession. More than 40 percent had lost their jobs or taken a hit in their income, while nearly 60 percent had seen their investments decrease in value.
On the whole, they were relatively pessimistic about the economy’s outlook. The largest share of respondents (39 percent) said they thought it would be at least three years before the economy recovered, while 23.4 percent felt the economy would rebound in less than two years.
But the respondents were prepared to make sacrifices to sustain their philanthropy. Of those who planned to give at least as much in 2009, 50 percent said they were willing to make compromises in other areas of their life to do so.
Most people said the recession would not affect their previous charitable commitments. Of those who were committed to a multi-year gift, 87 percent said they would pay the donations on time.
Meanwhile, donors who were forced to make cuts preferred to give smaller donations, rather than halting their support altogether.
Giving to New Groups
While a recession may not seem like the ideal time to seek out new donors, many people in the survey (42.5 percent) said they would give to a charity they had not supported in the past if someone they knew was seeking the gift. Many donors (40.3 percent) said they were also willing to give for the first time if the charity was working directly to help people hurt by the recession.
Sixteen percent said they would not consider supporting a new organization. The study also explored whether donors would give again to nonprofit groups that were suffering significant fund-raising woes. People were more likely to make another donation for charities that were alleviating needs aggravated by the recession than they were to other kinds of charities.
Nearly 8 percent of respondents said they would not support a social-service organization if it cut services because of budget problems, while nearly 15 percent said they would stop giving to other types of charities.
Donors in the study said that, even before the recession, they were beginning to make some changes to how they gave.
For many, frequent solicitations were a big turnoff. Forty-one percent said they had stopped donating to at least one nonprofit group in the past five years because they felt overwhelmed by appeal letters, while more than a third said they were concerned organizations spent too much on fund raising.
Donors also said they were giving more to fewer causes (28.6 percent), being more thoughtful about their donations (29.4 percent), and donating more to local charities rather than national or umbrella organizations.
Among the study’s other findings:During the recession, online gifts and product donations are expected to become more popular, while telemarketing, door-to-door canvassing, and direct-mail appeals may be less successful. Starting a new capital campaign during the recession may be a challenge, as just 2.7 percent of respondents said they would give more for this type of project, while 14.6 percent said they would give less. Donors cited matching gifts as a big motivator to give, more so than the opportunity to participate in a monthly giving program or the chance to avoid taxes on the value of a gift by donating through an IRA.
Copies of the study, “Philanthropy in a Turbulent Economy,” will be available soon and can be ordered from http://www.cygresearch.com, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling Patricia Sinka at (800) 263-0267.