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Philanthropy "experts" are fond of coming up with theories about the different donor segments. According to the popular narrative, "sophisticated" donors are supposed to care about "social impact" or global endeavors to “change the world” through the technologies of social entrepreneurship and alleviation of “root causes.” But a new report on high net worth philanthropy suggests that by and large wealthy donors give just like the rest of us. 

First, this is a study of HNW (high new worth) donors—the "sophisticated" portion of the donor class, right? HNW defined here as net assets of $1M or household income of $200K+. So not stinking rich, but comfortable and up. Among these donors…

  • Most still give on the charity model: that is, the field to which they gave most often was “basic human needs”—food, shelter, and so on. And what comes in second? Religion.
  • Impact doesn’t matter much. Only 44% said they thought their gifts had the impact intended. 54% had no idea if their gifts had the intended impact or not.
  • Harder to raise money in a campaign season? Well, only 24% of these folks gave or planned to give to a political campaign this cycle. And only 22% of self-described Republicans. In other words, political givers are different people than nonprofit givers, as supported by this data.

And a couple of thoughts from the Nonprofit Quarterly

  • "The number one reason why HNW (high net worth) donors give to a particular organization? No, it’s not that they can prove their effectiveness, as the experts are so fond of telling you. The number one reason is their belief in the mission of the organization (54 percent). Then comes the belief that their gift can make a difference (44 percent), and experiencing personal satisfaction, enjoyment or fulfillment (39 percent). Other reasons fall below these. Gaining a tax benefit mattered to approximately 18 percent of them, but this is actually down a bit from 2013, when 34 percent cited tax breaks." 
  • "Where do HNW individuals place the most confidence? Nonprofits and individuals are in a dead heat at 87 percent, followed by state and local government, the executive branch, and, finally Congress, which still managed to pull down an incredible 41 percent."

Looks like civil society is going strong.

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