People who seek big gifts from the wealthy may not be exaggerating if they say their jobs are just as tough as they were for fundraisers in the Great Depression.
Last month’s release of the “Giving USA” report confirmed that fundraisers faced historic challenges in the depths of the recession: Donations by individuals fell 17.5 percent in 2008 and 2009, more than at any time since the giving report was first released in the 1950s.
A recent analysis that looked at the nation’s worst economic times showed patterns similar to today’s picture, according to historic data compiled by Robert Sharpe and other data The Chronicle has gathered on the state of big gifts.
Mr. Sharpe, a Memphis consultant for planned giving, studied annual reports from the 1930s on large gifts made during fundraising drives in several cities. He found a free-fall in the Depression similar to that fundraisers face today, as the charts below show.
In 2007, The Chronicle reported more than 753 gifts of $1-million or more, totaling $32.2-billion. By 2010, there were fewer than half as many gifts of that size — just 364 — totaling only $4.1-billion.
Those trends add fuel to concerns about capital campaigns that I detailed a few weeks ago. No matter how much more sophisticated fundraising has become since the Depression years, can charity officials today really expect that drives to raise billions of dollars will succeed in this era?
If history is any guide, it could be a long time until that’s possible. When giving plunged in 1931, two years after the stock-market crash, it didn’t start growing again for another decade. Giving did not grow beyond 1929 levels until the start of World War II.
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