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The Other World of Research: Cat Visits the Realm of Philanthropic Studies!

Thu, December 03, 2015 10:54 AM | Deleted user

By Catherine Cefalu, Lead Prospect Research Analyst at The University of Chicago

Hi Nerds!

As some of you may know, I am currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. I mention this partly to explain why I didn’t run for re-election as APRA-IL vice president, but also to enthuse about the field of philanthropic studies.

My friends, there is a whole other world of research out there, and it is amazing.

I did not have any classes this semester, so I took the opportunity to attend some conferences. In addition to the fantastic APRA-IL Fall Conference, I also attended the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Annual Symposium in Indianapolis and the Association of Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action’s Annual Conference in Chicago. Some things were the same as any APRA conference I’ve attended (swag and tote bags FTW); the main difference was the emphasis on theory over practice. The majority of attendees and presenters were academics who conducted research and studies on the field of philanthropy. Each session consisted of three speakers who each spent 10-15 minutes discussing their work (usually on a related topic), followed by questions and discussion with the audience. It’s a fascinating format, and it might be cool to try out at APRA.

Photo Jonathon Cohen, Doorways

I learned about some incredible work that is currently going on. While it’s too much to go into extensively, I did notice some common trends under discussion at both conferences:

  • Women and Philanthropy: The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is also home to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, which recently released its 2015 “WomenGive” study. I found it a fascinating counterpart to Jennifer Filla and Preeti Gill’s presentation at the APRA-IL Fall Conference. Much of the current academic research being done on gender and philanthropy is now focusing on inter-family dynamics: how do married couples negotiate household giving? Does education or income disparity influence who makes philanthropic decisions? How does the presence of children impact the giving preferences of mothers and/or fathers (and are there different effects for single-parent households)?
  • International Philanthropy: One of the aspects of academic philanthropic studies that I would love to see more of in APRA is the inclusion of more international perspectives. I don’t mean Americans talking about research in other countries, I mean people who are actually living and working in those countries. ARNOVA’s membership is incredibly diverse, with researchers attending from every part of the world (except Antarctica, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time…). I had a great discussion with some Dutch researchers at ARNOVA about our countries’ different attitudes toward naming gifts. I attended a session where the presenter, from Israel, talked about the ways in which mass media discusses philanthropy; in Israel, elite philanthropists are often framed as agents of one side or another in social issue conflicts, which seems worlds away from the way that American media talks about its high-profile philanthropists.
  • Corporate Giving and Transparency: Corporate giving, particularly outside the United States, varies widely in terms of the level of transparency provided by the organizations. One study by researchers from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the University of Maryland, looked at what factors impact the level of public disclosure by foundations in China, where transparency laws are largely absent or unenforced. Another study by a researcher at Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil examined the state of corporate philanthropy in Mexico and how it aligned with a company’s corporate social responsibility practices; in many ways, the corporate foundations in Mexico seemed to be much more closely tied to the company’s private activities than corporate foundations in the U.S.
  • Giving Days and Other Non-Traditional Fundraising: At the Lilly Family Symposium, I attended a session that included a presentation by Barbara Newhouse, executive director of the ALS Association, who discussed the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge on the Association’s policies and practices; she particularly stressed the need to share donor data within the different chapters of the ALS Association. Una Osili (director of research at the Lilly Family School and the 2014 keynote speaker at APRA International!) gave a presentation on her team’s research on Giving Tuesday and other giving days; one fascinating result from the study was that donations made on Giving Tuesday did not reduce a donor’s other gifts to the organization that year: if they made a gift on Giving Tuesday, they would likely also make their usual year-end gift, and at a similar amount as previous years.
  • Putting Research Into Practice: As I said at the beginning of this post, the field of philanthropic studies is largely academic and includes very few practitioners. A major focus of both conferences was how to bridge that gap between theory and practice. I think prospect research is uniquely positioned to be one of those possible bridges, given our love of knowledge and love of sharing it with others. 

Other highlights:

  • They mentioned prospect research!
  • Beth Breeze from the University of Kent is conducting research on the social characteristics of fundraisers. What makes a good fundraiser? One interesting tidbit from her presentation: of the UK gift officers surveyed, she found that 10% of them sing in a choir, compared to 1% of the general population!
  • Elizabeth Dale at Seattle University is conducting some fascinating research on the philanthropic practices of LGBT individuals and households. (She is also a former Chicagoan—she was director of development at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center before pursuing her PhD in Philanthropic Studies).
  • Russell James from Texas Tech University is working on motivations for planned giving (you can look at the slides from his presentation for the Lilly Family Symposium here). Unlike many of the other studies on donor motivation I encountered, Dr. James is coming at it from a different direction: he’s putting people in fMRI machines, asking them questions about death and bequests, and seeing what parts of the brain light up. I really encourage you to take a look at the paper for this research if you can:

James, R. N., III & O’Boyle, M. W. (2014). Charitable estate planning as visualized autobiography: An fMRI study of its neural correlates. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43(2), 355- 373. (A previous version of the paper can be found on the Social Science Research Network here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2000345)

  • Recaps of the sessions at the Lilly Family Symposium can be found here. You can also see video of the keynote here (featuring Hasbro chairman Alan Hassenfeld) and the luncheon address on “Breaking 2%” by Schwab Charitable executive director Kim Laughton here.

If you want to hear more or want to nerd out about philanthropic studies, find me on Twitter or send me an e-mail!

 Kelley, fMRI One

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