In about six weeks, we’ll see the release of the 2009 Giving USA Report, researched by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which is the site of some of the most meaningful work in the field.

Giving USA has been the barometer of philanthropy in the America since 1956.  While at times I challenge the results, their extended history and established practices and procedures are valuable when looking at trends in philanthropy.  Having served on the Board of Visitors of the Center on Philanthropy, I have been afforded an up close look at methods and procedures.  I am pleased that experts with values of accuracy and rules ensure they are being applied to the research.

I have never claimed to be a researcher and I can’t judge appropriately all the processes.  Like everyone else who reads this report, I rely on the consistency of application. That is, the measures remain the same year after year, and so I assume we are comparing apples to apples.

Therefore, my assumption is that if this report is wrong, it has at least been consistently wrong for more than a half century.

This year, I am going to be more curious than ever about their assessment of giving.  How will they account for the extremely “SILENT” giving that went on in 2009 more than ever before?

You know 2009 was the year that it was embarrassing to be successful.  Your neighbor talked about how his or her stock went down, and these losses were acceptable dinner party conversation.  But if your stock or assets didn’t go down—yes, estimates as much as 35% were not significantly affected—you didn’t talk about it.  It would have been tasteless.  If your business was booming—and yes, many businesses were booming—you might acknowledge that you weren’t as hurt as others but you wouldn’t dream of declaring yourself the sole winner in this economic crash.

The same unwritten “hush, hush” rule goes for philanthropy.

Hartsook was one of the lucky ones.  Our business did well (notice even now I can’t use the word booming) in 2009, growing to 282 clients worldwide and we expect to surpass 2010 goals with 323 clients already.  We don’t want to rub in anyone’s hard times; at the same time, we are proud.  We “keep our ear to the ground,” and we hear a lot.  There was a lot of contraction in the fundraising consulting business; our research indicates that only a few of the large firms maintained their employment while some were cut in half.  We believe that this places us at the top of fundraising counsel with 65 employees and staff and over 300 clients.

Because I gave away $2 million last year, people of wealth frequently confide in me as a peer.  I’ve confided in them about a major pledge I have not announced because it would seem over the top.  (Yeah, I can hear some of you snickering . . . Bob Hartsook would never want to go over the top).

How will Giving USA address this anomaly?  This recession was heralded as the worst since the Great Depression and Giving USA had not started at that time, so how do they account for this success silence and quiet giving?  Of course we all know not everyone lost money this year; not everyone had all their money tied up in stocks and real estate, don’t we?

Let me illustrate.  Obviously, I can’t use names.  A major part of the reason the people involved in the following stories didn’t allow their gifts to be acknowledged is because they didn’t want to give all this money away in public.  But be assured that I know them personally.  These are not stories from nonprofits to Hartsook consultants, passed on to me.  Each one of these stories is a personal conversation and personal relationship.

A Southern Family gave away $80 million to create a trust/ foundation in support of five causes—three local and two national and international.  It would have been the 12th highest gift made in America according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Top 50 2009 gifts.  The individual owns a privately held company that shares ownership with an ESOP and the company had a tough year; people had been laid off and salaries frozen.  He and his family didn’t think it was the right time to announce the 12th largest gift in the 2009.  How does Giving USA handle this gift?

A $1 million gift of an interest in real estate was made by a family who supports a faith based cause from an urban city.  “Sure,” you say, “. . .real estate?”  We all know what happened to real estate.  Now go read my blog about using the words “everyone” and “no one.”  This is real, and the donor who lives a modest Christian life didn’t want to flaunt the value of his property to others.

Finally, a Dentist who lives in a small, rural community gave $500,000 to a youth program and didn’t want it announced because of how others in this small community might react.  He didn’t want to brag because he knew times were tough for so many.  And we know, especially in small communities, you share each other’s troubles and you never, ever gloat.

Okay, I am going to stop.  I have made my point.  If this “wealth shame” phenomenon has never been encountered before by Giving USA, how are they are going to react?

The head of the Center on Philanthropy spoke at the AFP International Conference in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago.  He said many things, but one in particular that I think the world needs to hear.

The loss of $6 billion in giving in 2008 should be celebrated and not viewed as a prescription for future failure.  He said, “Only 6 billion?!?  Wow.  The resolve of our country to give is so great.”  While other parts of the economy tanked 40%, giving went down only $6 billion. I agree and said so at the time. Thanks, Patrick for expressing that sentiment.  It is right on.

There was much success in giving in 2009.  There was not a decline, but a reallocation of giving.  We had a public policy group that increased their giving by 34% and are 75% ahead of last year in the first few months of 2010.  We have food banks across America that are increasing their giving by 20% to 200% and teaching America that food distribution is multi-billion dollar business.  We have Colleges and Universities whose alumni and business partners stepped up.

I won’t go on.  But your heard it here: THE HARTSOOK VIEW IS THAT GIVING WENT UP 2% IN 2009!

That’s my story and I am sticking to it.