Last year, we discussed the collaboration and thorough research process behind Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017. To mark the release of this year’s report, we’re diving deeper into the process of how an individual chapter is written and how it covers and curates other important giving reports released throughout the previous year.
Anna Pruitt, Ph.D., serves as the Managing Editor for Giving USA and coordinates the writing process for the book’s chapter writers. Over the last several years, she has worked hard to convey a consistent tone across all chapters, working with chapter writers and along with Giving USA’s editorial review board, reviewing and editing each chapter multiple times for consistency of tone and message.
The thorough process of writing, editing, rewriting, editing and tweaking again, and more doesn’t take place within a small timeframe. Instead, Pruitt and the other writers collect articles, research reports, and other information for the book throughout the year.
“It’s a continuous process,” she explained. “We’re always keeping an eye out on materials, information, and reports that can be used be in Giving USA and would be useful for practitioners to know. Reviewing these reports and articles then helps us determine whether this information needs to be included in this year’s Giving USA or next year’s, and also helps us continuously track and stay aware of the conversations around philanthropic giving during that given year,” she explained.
Doing so also helps Pruitt and the research team see what the media covers around philanthropic giving, as well as similarities or differences with what practically happens in the field. “It’s important to us that we’re listening to those conversations and having those conversations.
“Overall, there’s never a time that the chapter writing process stops. We’re either collecting new information, or we’re in the active chapter writing process.”
For that chapter writing process, Pruitt has worked hard to provide a template for chapter authors to work from, making the process and what reports have to be included clear at the outset. This process helps the writers have a basis for what to cover and how to cover it. “Providing this template, combined with the author’s thorough research and writing process, produces an original and detailed report that can be read and understood by anyone working in the field,” she explained.
“In addition, it’s important to ensure that the chapter writers learn throughout their experience writing and working for the team. It’s an enormous task to write and prepare these chapters, and we’re so grateful to have intelligent and hard-working professionals within the field who volunteer to do so. We believe that it enhances the report in so many ways by having these writers so dedicated to the field and to this report.”
Tessa Skidmore, Women’s Philanthropy Institute visiting research associate, wrote the chapter on individuals and their giving this year. Interest by nonprofit professionals in certain topics ensures that some are included in the report every year. Policy changes, online giving, high net worth donors, giving vehicles, and demographics of givers are all topics discussed every year in the chapter on individual giving. In addition, Skidmore was also able to analyze more deeply the impact of high net worth donors, their influences on giving, and implications for that giving.
As a result, reports such as Blackbaud’s Charitable Giving Report, the Association of Fundraising Professional’s (AFP) and Urban Institute’s Fundraising Effectiveness Project Quarterly Fundraising Report, and the Nonprofit Research Collaborative’s Nonprofit Fundraising Study are discussed in the individuals chapter, as they are every year.
“Blackbaud’s data provides additional context for overall giving, and it also looks specifically at online giving, which the Giving USA data doesn’t cover,” Skidmore said. “In other words, it gives fundraisers additional context when it comes to the utilization of different giving platforms, while the AFP’s and Urban Institute’s project breaks down small gifts versus large gifts, and the Nonprofit Research Collaborative’s report measures giving to different-sized organizations.”
“These reports all study and analyze giving, but they frame their analyses in ways that result in different data among the reports. By including these reports in Giving USA and explaining the nuances behind each one, we hope that it helps people have a comprehensive view of how giving fared in multiple contexts.”
Pruitt added: “Presenting these other reports alongside the Giving USA data gives people a more holistic view of the state of philanthropy as a whole. By partnering with other institutions, we’re able to present information that nonprofit professionals and others can learn about and apply to their own organizations.”
However, chapter authors also have the opportunity to include specific stories from that year as well.
“Several books were released last year critiquing philanthropy and donor influences. I looked at not only the critiques, but also other reports and articles focusing on the more positive side of philanthropy. We ensure throughout the report that we take a balanced approach to analyzing every issue,” Skidmore said.
Pruitt: “It was vital to include these critiques of philanthropy and how they were covered. Tessa was able to wrap that into the Giving by Individuals chapter, and not only talk about the critiques on philanthropy, but also include responses to those critiques and actionable steps people can take to address them.”
Another interesting note about this year’s report? While Giving USA always covers generational differences in giving and demographic characteristics, Skidmore noted an increase in reports and studies on diverse donors (including donors of various races, genders, and sexual orientations).
“For the first time that I am aware of, we included an academic study on how LGBT households versus heterosexual households manage their giving differently,” Skidmore said.
“We also always include coverage of different giving vehicles, but we looked more deeply into the uses of tools like impact investing and donor advised funds. Since there are so many giving tools and options available, individuals have been using these tools to modify and adapt their giving every year.”
And how is this information useful to practitioners?
“Giving USA is a comprehensive tool that situates various reports, news articles, studies, and data within the current context and distills that information so that it is useful for many different nonprofits and other organizations,” Pruitt said.
Skidmore added: “Learning about the data on giving itself is important, but the environment in which giving, specifically individual giving, takes place is also incredibly impactful. It’s not just about how much people give, but understanding the nuances behind their giving and the environment in which giving takes place is also vitally important.”
Both relish the opportunity to coordinate and contribute to the research project.
“I’m always looking for articles relevant to the chapter,” Pruitt said. “When I read reports or news articles, I always take into consideration whether or not they fit in with the major themes we’ve discussed for Giving USA that year. Conducting research for the report has also taught me how to fit in pieces of information that reflect events happening at the time and see the philanthropic sector within a larger environment.
“I’m dedicated to providing a resource to nonprofit practitioners to thoroughly understand giving throughout a year. It’s vital to communicate and articulate everything we’re seeing in the field.”