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News & Press: Member Insights

Looking to Data to Track Giving in Uncertain Times

Wednesday, March 28, 2018  

By Chuck Longfield, Chief Scientist, Blackbaud and Senior Advisor, Blackbaud Institute

As 2018 revs into full motion, we are still collectively making sense of 2017’s many ups and downs. Across the past year, we saw our landscape shaped by political divides, natural disasters, and tense reform. And the question all along has been: through all this tumult, how was philanthropy affected?

While we continue exploring these many factors, it’s important to ground our examination in data. In the Blackbaud Institute’s 2017 Charitable Giving Report, we dug into nearly $30 billion in charitable giving data to begin answering questions about how philanthropy performed in 2017. And the data supports many of the trends we saw shaping up over the year.

As political rifts deepened around us and natural disasters called on our reflexes to help, more and more people started to get involved directly with the causes that matter to them. Many organizations saw an influx of new donors, particularly when their causes are in the political spotlight. While new donors are less likely to continue their support long-term, organizations willing to put in the effort for strong stewardship will likely find many of these passionate supporters sticking around. 


In the same theme, the ways in which people donated throughout the past year continued to shift the donor into the driver’s seat. Giving platforms and other intermediaries such as donor-advised funds (DAFs) continued to proliferate, allowing donors even more avenues for giving. As these giving vehicles play a much larger role in philanthropy, nonprofits are navigating the intricacies of soliciting and acknowledging those gifts. Organizations continue to test and learn the balance between democratizing giving and setting guidelines that still allow them to represent their mission and connect with donors.

Perhaps the most momentous change to philanthropy in 2017 happened in the last few weeks of the year: the passing of the new federal tax law. With so little time between the passing of the law and the end-of-year giving season, it remains to be seen how many donors and organizations responded directly to the reform by changing their giving and fundraising habits. For now, organizations are encouraged to remain conservative in their projections, with the understanding that increased donations in 2017 may have been a response to changing times, not growth that can be sustainably built upon. 

For now, what is certain is that a focus on the fundamentals of fundraising and relationship building has never been more important. Organizations facing tight budgets and changing market conditions must steward their donors and retain them, with the knowledge that previous giving incentives like tax deductions may not be enough to keep donations coming in. 

As we continue to explore the full effects of 2017’s many shakeups, we must remember to ground our findings in data. While uncertainty and ups and downs shape our daily lives, the numbers will reveal the true effects on philanthropy. Insights like the Charitable Giving Report and Giving USA can keep us on track as we continue to evolve philanthropy to meet these changing times.

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