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A Potential $15-Billion Windfall for Effective Nonprofits
Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy  ·  November 30, 2011  ·  Excerpt

It's one of the holy grails of philanthropy: Finding ways to steer more donor money to the highest-performing nonprofits rather than to less-effective or downright fraudulent groups.

A new study by GuideStar and Hope Consulting examines what charities and nonprofit watchdogs can do to help donors make smarter giving decisions—but shows that the groups face an uphill battle. The study is a follow-up to a 2010 report, which found that only 35 percent of people conducted research on a charity before they gave.

The study released today, "Money for Good II," estimates that individuals, foundations, and corporations would shift about $15-billion each year to more effective groups if they had better information. But that's only about 5 percent of total annual giving.

"The reality is that changing behaviors within the charitable marketplace is incredibly difficult," said Greg Ulrich, director of Hope Consulting, in San Francisco. "There are high levels of satisfaction with nonprofits that people do give to, there are high levels of loyalty, and there are a variety of motivations for giving, not all of which are to give to the highest-performing nonprofits."

The study was based on surveys of 5,227 individuals, plus 873 people who advise donors and 727 foundation officials.

Not surprisingly, it found that foundations and advisers do significantly more research on charities than individuals do. About 89 percent of foundations surveyed conduct research on nonprofits before donating.

But all types of donors said they valued a charity's effectiveness. About 71 percent of individuals, 68 percent of advisers, and 90 percent of foundations said they had a strong desire for information about the impact of a charity's work.

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Our take
The results of this study show how much loyalty there is between individual donors and the charities they choose to support. The key challenge, then, is to determine how your organization can build on that loyalty by providing accurate and fair information when it's needed. Knowing the media and communications environment in your area—and more importantly, how people learn about charities and nonprofits within that environment—can be crucial to gaining the trust of prospective donors in your community.

Contact us now for help answering these and other questions:

  • What research is available on donor attitudes and behavior in my area?
  • How can my organization help shape and influence the local discussion or perceptions about philanthropy?


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