When Giving Isn't Cool Anymore

It happened last month. Scanning a month's worth of business and political publications - the Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Fast Company, Wired - I noted that the coverage of giving fell off a cliff. No foundations working to improve governance in Africa, no green initiatives in the Rust Belt, no Millennium Development Goals assessments, no creative gifts from high net worth donors that drive their alma maters into arcane areas of social service.

For seventeen months, the business and political publications have rivaled The Chronicle of Philanthropy with their steady and comprehensive coverage of all kinds of giving. We in the sector were thrilled that giving was cool, and wondered how long it would last. We mark the beginning of the spike with The Economist, February 25, 2006 briefing, “The Business of Giving: A Survey of Wealth and Philanthropy,” well through the Buffet/Gates announcement last summer. Abruptly, notwithstanding the wholly unscientific nature of my sampling, it appears the coverage has begun to peter out as of last month.

When giving isn’t cool anymore, the giving continues. I learned from the head of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, David Giunta, last Friday that the democratization of giving is marching forward. Through the recent lowering of their minimum fund size for giving to $5,000 and their grant size to $100, Giunta described the Gift Fund’s efforts to reach out deeper into the retail market to promote giving.

You only need to look at the $11 trillion retail mutual fund market to know that there is real power in that part of the market, between the well-served high net worth donor market and the $25 on-line disaster giver. This segment has been underserved, well actually un-served, with well-packaged, affordable giving products. Giunta agreed that the minimums need to get even lower to tap the real potential of giving in the retail market.

Here’s a powerful harbinger for the future of retail giving: According to Giunta, fifty percent (50%) of the clients of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund have no other relationship with Fidelity. This demonstrates there is a market for well-packaged giving products. And it indicates that there is substantial business potential for Fidelity and other top tier financial firms in developing more affordable giving products for the lower end of the retail market. Still Ned Johnson’s “baby,” the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund will give away nearly $1 billion this year, and at nearly fifteen years old, has barely begun to reach its potential.

Kudos must be given to two mainstream publications that have covered giving consistently long before, and hopefully long after, giving was cool: The New York Times (specifically Stephanie Strom) and Fast Company. We salute their commitment and insight, and hope others will follow their example.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:42 AM, Aug 28, 2007 in High Net Worth Donors | Permalink | Comment