Giving in America hit another all-time high in 2017 with total contributions exceeding $410 billion. This number is truly staggering when you consider that our country’s history of charitable giving is a short one. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Tax Reform Act which added the familiar section 501c3 into the IRS code and gave organizations the ability to become tax exempt and legally offer tax deductions to their financial supporters. There are now an estimated 1.5 million charitable organizations registered in the U.S. which gives donors an unprecedented number of options and the ability to support very specific causes as nonprofits become more specialized. However, this surfeit has also given rise to giver confusion while decreasing giver confidence as the “asks” become more frequent and the stories of charitable misappropriation of funds increasingly populate our news cycle.
We had the privilege of chatting with Al Mueller, President of Excellence in Giving about the landscape of philanthropy in 2018 and the challenges facing generous donors today. Located in beautiful Colorado Springs, Excellence in Giving has been working with high capacity donors since 2002 who “desire to achieve a high return on their philanthropic investments while experiencing more joy in the process.” As a former Wall Street advisor, Al naturally sees the charitable giving of his clients as an investment that should be evaluated with regard to ROI but laments along with me that there is need for greater accountability within the nonprofit sphere.
"We are a very generous nation and we give with the hopes that something good happens with our donated money. However, nonprofits cannot be shut down for lack of effectiveness and the IRS doesn’t regulate ROI." Al also shared that although the donors they serve desire to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to them, many embodied a “fear of finding out” how their donated money was utilized before becoming clients. Excellence in Giving strives to bridge this gap for donors by helping them identify their passions and then thoroughly researching potential nonprofits with regard to effectiveness and efficiency.
What we found most inspiring about their process is that the charitable gift of money is not the end game. The icing on the cake for their clients is the celebration of the gift. "We place a big emphasis on joy and the celebration of the gift". We couldn’t help but notice the voice change in Al when he began to speak about some of these celebration moments he has had the privilege of sharing with his clients. We were also struck by the reality that this has been a missing piece in our own giving equation and likely for many of our charitable clients.
From what we’ve learned thus far, a key takeaway is that joy should be a part of every charitable gift. A very popular verse that is oft-quoted in the generosity space is "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver". (II Corinthians 9:7). It is fair to surmise that all of our clients strive to be cheerful givers. Perhaps the key is to find peace with the amount you are giving, confidence in the recipient and connection and celebration of the positive change that resulted from the gift.
- Giving USA 2018
- A Brief History of Nonprofit Organizations (And What We Can Learn) by Hana Muslic
- Excellence in Giving
- The Bible, English Standard Version
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