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Matt Beem
President and COO
Kinetic Fundraising, Inc.

EJC has bright lights in giving

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Independence, MO – “Be careful what you say and do,” mom always says. “Perception is reality.”

Her words rang clear as I read last month’s Associated Press article reporting a slump in charitable giving. The story, which ran on Oct. 17 in the Kansas City Star, said gifts to all but a handful of the nation’s 400 largest nonprofits dropped 11 percent last year, the biggest decline ever published in the report.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which tracks national and international fundraising and giving, has compiled the Philanthropy 400 since 1990. In its discussion of this year’s report, Editor Stacy Palmer acknowledges an earlier GivingUSA Foundation study reflecting a 2009 drop in total giving of 3.6 percent, on which this column reflected in June.

I have no issue with the Philanthropy 400. It analyzes the nation’s largest nonprofits, one important barometer of fundraising and philanthropy in the United States.

What disappoints me is the AP’s incomplete presentation of it. Its article raises two points that merit further reporting and writing – which it leaves unanswered.

Most important is that the Philanthropy 400 accounts for $68.8 billion in 2009 charitable contributions, less than a quarter of the $307 billion given last year. Can we really draw conclusions – and are we responsible even to suggest them – from such a small sample?

The AP’s Philanthropy 400 article even offers a potential explanation for the drop. “Top charities may have taken such a hit as giving shifted to smaller, local groups …,” it reports Palmer to have said, yet it fails to pursue her suggestion.

Let me set the record straight. One need only look around Eastern Jackson County to see Kansas City’s bright lights of philanthropy:

n Community Services League, which tonight hosts former University of Missouri Basketball Coach Norm Stewart at its annual Brighter Futures Gala, is closing in on its goal to renovate and expand a new facility near the Independence Square. The organization already has raised nearly $2.1 million from individuals, foundations and corporations, including a gift of $250,000, the largest in its history.

n Hope House recently announced the completion of its $5 million campaign to renovate and expand its Independence campus. It exceeded goal and secured large gifts from the Hall Family, Kresge and Mabee foundations – along with significant contributions from individual and corporation donors – clear proof that an organization delivering vital services can raise money in tough economic times.

n The Blue Elk District of the Heart of America Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which serves The Examiner’s circulation area, is closing in on its 2009 Friends of Scouting goal of nearly $100,000. Hundreds of individuals, corporations and foundations have given, ensuring Scouting’s future for thousands of children in Eastern Jackson County.

I’d like to know how gifts to the nation’s 400 smallest nonprofits trended. Or why those who gave $25 in 2008 and $50 in 2009 – an increase of 100 percent – doubled their giving. The numbers are small, but their stories are undoubtedly profound.

Eager as I am, though, such information – which reflects the genesis of philanthropy – is unlikely to become a priority, a point over which I could express frustration. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll remember the other thing mom always says: Don’t complain; do something about it.

Stay tuned.

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