This is the first in a five-part series this week about research and recent trends in philanthropy. Check back every day this week for a new post.
What are facts?
According to Merriam Webster, a fact is something that has actual existence or a piece of information presented as having objective reality.
Fairly simple, right?
Not exactly, according to Dr. Les Lenkowsky, professor emeritus at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Facts can be awkward and unacceptable. They can be difficult to explain. They can be challenged by other facts. Dr. Lenkowsky quoted President John Quincy Adams, who said “facts can be stubborn things…”
So, how does a higher education institute and faculty dedicated to translating research and facts about philanthropy and nonprofits handle these “stubborn things?”
Well, from what I’ve learned, they do their best to translate them because it’s simply necessary.
One of the school’s mantras is that research informs practice, and practice informs research. In other words, faculty members and the research team use advice and questions from practitioners to inform their work, and then translate their findings to help practitioners learn about new trends, findings, etc., about donors and nonprofits.
Dr. Sara Konrath says it best: “Practitioners bring research alive.”
So, how do we translate those troublesome facts?
It’s clear that faculty members and the school’s research team understand that translating facts and research is vital. In fact (see what I did there?), they are motivated to study philanthropy in order to provide new insights to the sector. Many of them have been practitioners and understand the challenges that nonprofits face. So, they incorporate practical findings in papers, books, and articles in order to contribute vital knowledge that will inform and improve the ever-changing and critical “third” sector.
Faculty members not only publish in trade media outlets like The Chronicle of Philanthropy, they also issue articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in order to share findings with nonprofit practitioners and the general population. Nonprofits and philanthropy play a large role in society, and translating research findings for a broad audience, including policymakers, is essential.
So, I think I’ve laid the groundwork for why it’s important to translate research into practice. What are some examples of school and faculty research that we think everyone should know? (This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just some examples we thought of.)
How can laws about the tax code affect giving? The report by the school’s research team in collaboration with Independent Sector sought to examine how certain tax policy scenarios would impact charitable giving and Treasury revenue.
Receiving a tax benefit is one motivator for giving, so examining how different tax policies could affect giving is crucial for nonprofit practitioners to recognize and for legislators to understand.
Dr. Pamala Wiepking, Konrath, and their respective coauthors studied what motivates giving. These research studies not only help nonprofit practitioners understand different motivations and how to tailor communications and messaging to fit donors’ needs, but they can also help donors understand the motivations and mechanisms behind their own giving.
The annual report on giving in the U.S. during the previous year (i.e. the 2020 report will cover giving in 2019) is a treasure trove of facts and data about giving, broken down into sources/who gives (individuals, foundations, corporations, and bequests) and categories/what they give to (religion, health, education, human services, foundations, public-society benefit, arts, culture and humanities, international affairs, and environment and animal organizations).
It offers a wide view of giving throughout the year and how it was covered by academics and the popular press. Nonprofits can see where their organization fits in with sector giving, as well as understand different trends and news in the field.
How do men and women give differently? Why does it matter? The Women’s Philanthropy Institute studies giving and gender from a wide variety of angles, and they always have fresh insights and new research about this topic.
The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy studies philanthropy in underrepresented fields. In partnership with Boardsource and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, the school produced a report that analyzed diversity on nonprofit boards. Drs. Tyrone Freeman, Una Osili, and Shariq Siddiqui have also conducted research about diversity and how diverse donors are not new or emerging, and have played an important role in philanthropy for hundreds of years.
Again, these are only a few of the examples of research that can affect nonprofits and public policy. We’ll dive into some of this research, as well as how we engage with thought leaders in the field, throughout the series this week. You can also learn more about the school’s faculty and their diverse research interests, as well as the school’s research reports.
So, what is the importance of facts, and research that incorporates facts related to philanthropy?
Dr. Lenkowsky asked us all to consider the responsibility of research. For scholars and researchers at the school, responsible research uses practitioner insights and produces research findings that create a better nonprofit sector and a better world.
Can facts be directly translated into policies? Learn more from Dr. Lenkowsky’s presentation.