Conversations in Philanthropy – # 1

Daniel at the Library of philanthropy, IUPUI
Daniel at the Library of philanthropy, IUPUI







I arrived in Indianapolis almost two weeks ago, for a research internship at the School of Philanthropy, Indiana University in Indianapolis ( IUPUI). Since my arrival, it has been an intense foray into the world of Philanthropy and almost every experience is directly or indirectly related to philanthropy. I am amazed at the depth, breadth and strength of the school (and in some ways the city) to embrace philanthropic studies, in such a comprehensive way. Walk into downtown and you will notice the “Cultural trail,” endowed by the Eugene Glick Foundation, one of the larger philanthropic institutions in the city. The School of Philanthropy itself is endowed by the Lilly family and hence the school is now called the Lilly School of Philanthropy.

This is the first in series of “conversations in philanthropy,” posts that I plan on writing, during my stay here, throwing light on some aspect of the field of Philanthropic studies. In this post, I will try to give a big picture overview of how philanthropic giving has changed from last year to this year, based on Giving USA 2013 report and some insights into religious giving in the U.S.

I have already had some deep, insightful conversations with many people here covering philanthropy in religion, fund-raising, and also individual philanthropy. The research team here takes a “big picture,” view of philanthropy and studies it comprehensively. Some of the most impressive projects that I have come across are in the realm of trying to understand philanthropy in the context of larger societal discourse and also individual changes in behavior. My colleague Daniel, for instance is studying whether the ‘U-curve theory’ of philanthropy is true. i.e., that poorer people give more in philanthropy as compared to the middle class, in proportion to how much they earn and this percentage drops, as one’s income level increases.

            Giving USA 2013: The Giving USA Foundation and Lilly School of Philanthropy released Giving USA, the annual report, which takes stock of the field of Philanthropy in a “big-picture,” perspective. Here are some key findings of the survey, which uses data from Internal Revenue Service, other sources that publicly report giving and aggregates this information. This is the most trusted and comprehensive survey of giving in the country and has set a benchmark for reporting philanthropy. For more on methodology of how Giving USA compiles its data, look here.  Here are some key findings for this year:


  • Giving USA 2013 found that charitable contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals totaled slightly more than $316B in 2012, which represents an increase of 3.5% from 2011. While this is no small sum, the Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that this is a “far cry from the $344B raised in 2007, before the recession hit, and a sign that unless the economy heats up — and giving along with it — it will be 2018 before charities and foundations can expect a full recovery.” After adjusting for inflation, donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations are still 8.2% below their peak just before the recession started in 2007.
  • Giving by individuals, foundations, and corporations increased in 2012 (+3.9%, +4.4%, and +12.2% estimated, respectively).  The sharp growth in corporate giving could be tied to record profits for companies in the second half of 2012.
  • Contributions to colleges, universities, and private schools rose by nearly 5%.
  • Billionaire donors giving at record levels: according to the Chronicle’s database that tracks donations of $1M or more, the number of gifts amounting to $100M or more to date in 2013 has already exceeded the number of gifts of this level made in both 2009 and 2010.
  • Nonprofits with the strongest fundraising projections for the coming years tend to be spending more on fundraising in this time when many are cutting back, and are making innovations in how they attract gifts and diversifying their sources of revenue.

The U.S is considered one of the most generous societies in the world, with very high levels of giving to civil society organizations. This goes back to the days of the founding of the country itself, given that there was suspicion of the government and also high levels of ‘self-reliance,’ among people to solve their own problems. This, has arguably continued and to this day, shapes the cultural landscape of giving in the country. The Charitable Choice provision of 1996 and subsequent neo-liberal policies that have sought to reduce the role of government has markedly increased the demand for social services and hence, there has been an increase in the number of nonprofits. The sheer expansion of foundations is staggering, considering there are over 75,000 foundations operating in the U.S today.

Individual giving is still very high in the U.S, as Giving USA 2013 points out. But the debates in the U.S today center on the role of the state versus individual action. This is not entirely settled, despite best efforts to find compromise, with the political parties espousing diametrically opposed views on issues such as Medicare and Medicaid, Social service provision etc. For more reading and in-depth analysis of who gives, to what and why, check out this paper by Schervish et al.

Religious giving: What does the future hold?

The U.S attracts an enormous amount of money towards is religious institutions and faith-based organizations. Giving to religion was virtually flat (a -0.02% decline) with contributions estimated to be $101.54 billion. Giving to religious organizations (mostly local houses of worship) represents the largest share of U.S. charitable giving at 32% in 2012. This is not surprising, given that congregations are disengaging with the church and there is reported drop in church attendance. This could also be a case where faith-based giving is on the rise (those not overtly religious, but inspired by humanitarian principles-which one could argue are rooted in faith). A classic case is Heifer International.

Given that religious institutions have witnessed a drop in giving (from about ½ of all giving a few decades ago to about 1/3 now) there are lessons for church and congregation leaders here, as well. The first could be to engage with the congregation more deeply, to utilize online fund-raising (Dr. Tim Seiler, the Director of Fund-raising school informed me that churches are considered to be lagging behind in technology adoption) and also focusing on the untold needs of the congregations. The biggest insight that I got into this segment is when he said that the pastors are perhaps not talking to the right people, and making appeals to those already giving – rather than reaching out to those who are free-loading.

Philanthropy is well and alive in the U.S and this is corroborated by the research in Giving USA 2013. It is undergoing a shift, albeit slowly and this is taking the shape of more partnerships, between foundations, private enterprises and faith-based and religious groups. Perhaps this is an indication of the changing needs of society and also how people are responding to these needs. Or perhaps, it is a reflection of desperately trying to fill in gaps that the state has left open – given the budget cuts and sequestration?



Book Review: Interventions – A life in War and Peace – Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh

As the civil war in Syria rages on, with close to 90,000 people having died so far, and United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdhar Brahimi having admitted failure of his mission, the notion of a UN or international “intervention,” seems to be all but dead. While there is a glimmer of hope in the situation, with the government willing to negotiate, the opposition is adamant that it will not have anything to do President Bashar Assad. This book gets to the heart of such “interventions,” as Kofi nterventions_300dpi_0Annan would have handled them. As a former Secretary-General of the world body and one of the well-respected international diplomats, Kofi Annan shares his deepest insights, fears as well as moments of truth in this riveting book, which is sure to keep you engrossed.

Annan tells the story of his career, which started off with him working for the Economic Commission for Africa in 1965, following three years with the WHO. This was followed by a Master’s degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971 and work for the UN in Geneva. He points out to his motivation for joining the UN and subsequent shift in his thinking from that of primarily serving Ghana, his home country to being a civil-servant to the rest of the world. He says:” Between the forces of bureaucratic inertia, bad governance and military rule, I saw little possibility of advancing the kind of change that was so necessary to Ghana’s- and Africa’s- progress. Today, forty years later, as a new generation is rebelling against this conspiracy of corrupt rule across the continent, I recognize that frustration and the power of such ideals in our own feelings from a generation ago.” This comment is telling and reveals a part of him which possibly pushed him into public service, to begin with.

The book moves back and forth easily between the various crises that have defined his career: Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq and of course 9/11. The tone is conversational and the prose flows well. His account also gives insider information on such key aspects as the development of Peacekeeping as an idea and how the UN came to embrace this notion. The 1990s’ brought a new optimism, an idealist view of how the international community would stand behind the oppressed and the weak. Speaking of this growth, he says :” Between 1987 and 1992, most operations had involved one hundred observers or fewer missions involving littler risk to peacekeepers. By early 1994, there would be a total of eighty thousand peacekeeping forces deployed in 17 operations worldwide.” This was by no means a triumphalism of the west- as the missions in Rwanda, Somalia quickly deteriorated and the UN couldn’t do much to prevent the genocide, violence in these regions. Annan acknowledges that Rwanda and Bosnia were the two biggest failures until that time and to rectify that he commissioned two reports to investigate why the UN failed in its duties. What followed was the Brahimi Report in 2000, which sought to correct several of the impediments that stood in the way of the UN doing its job effectively.

Responsibility to Protect ( RTP) is a legacy that Kofi Annan left behind. It is a powerful statement and a legacy that reflects his commitment to upholding the high moral principles of protecting the vulnerable and weak in the face of oppression. It is what came out of his experiences in the abovementioned conflicts. This called for re-imagining the notion of state sovereignty, one of the holy-grails in International Relations. His quote on this is telling:” We needed to convince the broader global community that sovereignty had to be understood as contingent and conditional on states’ taking responsibility for the security of their own people’s human rights.”(pg84). The struggle within the organization and also the cultural shift is captured in his quote:” What do you do when people are starving, dying, not because there is drought, but because people, a group of men, are stopping them from getting the food…what do you to? Sit? Negotiate? Or what? .”

The chapter on Kosovo, East Timor and Darfur is particularly striking in its focus on how mass violence was committed by the respective states against their own people and how at times, the world just stood by and watched these atrocities. Kosovo was the litmus test for UN’s credibility. The call for action to stop violence against ethnic Albanians, the Security Council resolution 1199, which demanded the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and the subsequent NATO airstrikes, which ultimately had a decisive impact on how this situation ended. The East Timor’s case is particularly striking also because of the manner in which Annan was directly involved and this, one can argue, saved thousands of lives and also lead to the country eventually being recognized as a sovereign nation, following a popular referendum in 1999, which was mediated by the UN.

Darfur in Sudan presented another set of challenges and it seems that this tested his skills of negotiation, deal-making and diplomacy. The crisis in 2004, which was precipitated by the Sudanese government’s support of Janjaweed militia against the South had reached a tipping point. The crisis, which claimed over half a million lives has lead to an international campaign against Sudanese president Omar Bashar and also the formation of a new country, South Sudan.

By no means was his work easy or without risks. Annan mentions the many personal clashes with world-leaders, over how a problem should be approached, issues of parochial national interests coming in the way of reaching a just solution to a conflict and at times, pure ego being the deal-breaker. The struggle about defining the situation in Darfur as a genocide or not, involving the British, Americans and the UN itself is quite striking. This had enormous implications in how this situation was resolved and dealt with in the form of a UN mission sent in 2007.

United Nations and its role in today’s world

As the world becomes increasingly connected, both through movement of people as well as ideas, the challenges of governance increase. The role of the Secretary General itself is quite unique and Annan offers a sneak-peak into the running of an organization of $ 10 billion annual budget, and one invested with the hopes, aspirations of the entire world. The work requires tremendous tenacity, tact, energy as well as coordination skills. The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize to Annan and the UN was a confidence booster and legitimated his approach to running the organization.

While the post-WWII framework still operates in the form of permanent five of the Security Council, his 2003 call for reform aimed to expand the membership of permanent members; though this has not taken any concrete shape yet. His frustration of dealing with leaders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is apparent, when he points out that both Arafat and Ariel Sharon were problematic people to deal with. This seems to be the classic position of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, and shows partly why the UN has not been very effective in playing a key role in this conflict, so far. The UN has been denied a proper role in the conflict and Annan admits it as being limiting and not very effective.

Middle East, MDGs and the future of our planet

Speaking of his diplomatic initiatives to redefine security, as security from hunger, disease and poverty; towards accomplishment of the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs), Annan paints an interesting picture of his struggles with African leaders like Mugabe, who refused to acknowledge the use of condoms in the strategy to prevent the spread of AIDS. He captures this shifting in priorities quite well, when he says:” I spent most of my tenure as secretary-general in an international environment obsessed with the potential peril of weapons of mass destruction. But in HIV/AIDS, which never received anything like the same level of attention, we had a true WMD- and one that was actively unleashing itself in the world.” His lament about countries prioritizing violence over peace is clear when he says:” Member states willed the ends but rarely the means. The world, as ever, was happy to invest in the instruments of violence, but not the resources for peace.”

Despite the violence, chaos and destruction that has characterized the Arab Spring, Annan remains optimistic and believes that the demands for better governance that are being made are legitimate and reflect the aspirations of the younger generation.

While the book captures the career and life of Kofi Annan through the lens of a few events, it could have been organized better. Though it moves back and forth and captures the tension between the key people, at key moments in history; I believe the story could have been told in a more detailed manner. Despite its short-comings and skimming over certain key global events, the book is a fascinating read and a must-read for any student of International development or International Affairs.


Annan Kofi, Mousavizadeh Nader. Interventions – A life in War and Peace, The Penguin Press, 2012. Hardcover. $21.42 on