Q: What did you find most interesting about the findings of the report?

A: The slight disconnect between the kinds of issues people personally get involved with and the causes they would like to see businesses support.

For instance, individuals gave more donations to disaster relief this past year (52 percent) than most of the other causes that they traditionally give to, and this is because it is an immediate situation where it just happened and people are dealing with the high emotions of it just happening. The odd result is that only 23 percent of businesses gave to disaster relief last year.

Also, individuals were more inclined to volunteer for disaster relief efforts than ever before this past year.

Q: Why do you think more people gave to disaster relief efforts this past year?

A: I think people were seeing it as a one time kind of thing rather than ongoing social issue that needed to be addressed for a long duration. And after the tsunami it seemed that the focus started to turn to disaster relief.

When you look at the list for the kinds of causes that people give to (see list at bottom of story), 21 percent of people who gave to the top 5 of 12 causes would like to see more businesses address such issues as child abuse. It’s obviously a cause they believe in, but there is a sense of letting a business handle it, rather than getting involved themselves. I think this is because they are not finding enough outlets for themselves to get involved in abuse issues like child abuse and domestic violence. There is a thought that these issues are so sensitive to people that they want to create distance from it, or it could just be that they don’t see the organizations enough, meaning they are not visible enough.

Can you name one national association for this topic? It’s hard to think of one. I think abuse causes become more of a community or local level effort, but for the most part there is less visibility and there should be some sort of unification to address issues of violence.

These kinds of causes are sensitive issues, and even with the best intentions, it’s a tricky proposition for businesses and there is no direct pay-off. Also, it can back fire on you. Look at the American Girl situation where they were supporting girl’s organization and certain number of people felt that what they were doing was morally wrong.

It’s risky for companies to be associated with certain causes that seem controversial even with the best intentions. The causes that retain the most support are those that are relevant to a target audience, across a wide spectrum, such as breast cancer. As long as people can relate, and there is a selling of products directly, like Mary Kay for instance or Avon, their customer base is women, so they would be interested in supporting causes that help fight such issues as breast cancer.

Q: Which category seems to be losing donations in the last year?

A: Education seems to be losing ground as more attention turns to health. There has been a steady trend in the last two years where more people are giving to health causes. However, it’s interesting to note that people giving to education personally and businesses who gave to education almost equaled out to 31 percent on both sides.

Q: You mentioned trust levels have a higher priority with Americans as a social cause? What did you mean by this?

A: The idea that when you are involved with a certain cause, like health, there is a higher level of trust with the charitable organization that addresses those issues and the businesses that give to those charities. Primarily because everyone has to deal with health problems, or knows someone who is currently dealing with illness, so it’s closer to home than other causes. It’s something that directly affects everyone.

Q: Is the fact that more people are giving to health-related issues have anything to do with the Baby Boomer generation?

A: I suspect that the rise in donating to health causes are related to the larger aging population and the middle-aged who are witnessing chronic health conditions, therefore there is a higher priority for them.

Q: You said 42 percent more charitable donations have been given to the areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina overall? Did you see any less concern/giving when Florida was hit by Hurricanes?

A: We asked that question back in the fall about experiences that past year, and we did ask people about disaster relief in general. In some cases people diverted money from other causes to contribute to disaster relief, which was a top priority from what they normally gave money to.

When you have devastation at such a large scale, especially when it hits home, there is a sense of immediacy and an empathy that drives people to donate to that cause. With all of the natural disasters we were having last year, the overall effect was that people were donating more money to disaster relief.

Q: Overall do you feel that Americans have lost trust in charitable organizations (scandals, not knowing where their money is going and to whom, CEOs making $450,000 a year) or has it remained about the same?

A: We actually asked people about how much they trust charitable organizations and there has been an increase in trust in the last couple years from 2003. There was a noticeable up-tick for health, educational and religious organizations. Normally disaster relief has a lower number of donations along with international relief and animal rights. You have to keep in mind that most donations are emotion-driven and it’s hard to determine why people chose one organization over another. It’s almost always a personal issue/choice.

Q: What seems to work in convincing Americans to give to a charity?

A: A sense of urgency, especially with natural disasters. Something that is relative to peoples own lives, medical and health… more people experiencing those things, the ability to emotionally connect with a cause.

It is always driven by the feeling that something can be done to help.

Top Categories for Giving

What kinds of causes do individuals give to? Here are the top 12 categories for donations.

  1. Disaster relief
  2. Education
  3. Hunger
  4. Medical research
  5. Homelessness
  6. Environment
  7. Animal rights
  8. Housing
  9. Domestic violence
  10. Human rights
  11. Child abuse
  12. Illiteracy
  13. Substance abuse

May 24, 2006.