Letter to the Editor: Florino Pushes Back on Jeff Cain’s critiques of Giving USA’s Report

In a  Letter to the Editor  of The Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled “Giving USA’s’ Critics Are Wrong: Not All Forms of Giving Are Equal,” Philanthropy Roundtable’s Adam Meyerson Distinguished Fellow in Philanthropic Excellence Joanne Florino responded to a recent op-ed, “Giving USA Misses the Boat on the True State of Generosity in America,” written by Jeff Cain, co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC.  

Read the Letter to the Editor, published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, below: 

Giving USA’s report on charitable giving in 2022 has sparked an unexpected debate about how and why such data is collected and what it means for the present and future state of philanthropy and civil society in the United States. 

Jeff Cain’s op-ed on the topic, “Giving USA Misses the Boat on the True State of Generosity in America,” offered two criticisms. First, that by neglecting to mention the vast amount of government dollars that flow to nonprofits, the Giving USA report “overstates the role private philanthropy plays in supporting America’s nonprofits.” And, second, that the report omits “the ways millions of people donate through vehicles such as crowdfunding, mutual-aid networks and other private acts of kindness.” 

Phil Buchanan then responded in his own op-ed, “Why Track Giving? Because Nonprofits Need Money to Do Their Work.” He cautioned that “By conflating all forms of generosity, we risk losing sight of the real challenges facing nonprofits.” Giving USA’s data about a decline in charitable contributions in 2022, he argued, threatens the country’s most troubled communities in ways that cannot be remedied by personal acts of kindness. 

While Cain is correct that the health of civil society depends on mutual aid and simple,  frequently unnoticed gestures of generosity, those actions cannot be measured as easily as charitable contributions. Nor can we guarantee the efficacy and reach of such remedies for those who live in isolation or suffer from mental health or substance use challenges, for example. As for nonprofit organizations that receive government dollars, they frequently report delayed or incomplete payments and the threat of budget cuts. 

As Buchanan notes, private philanthropy, in contrast, is more nimble and usually more reliable, especially on a community level. That’s why any drop in giving — especially among the middle class — is so worrisome. Calls to restrict ways people give are equally troubling, which is why we supported Giving USA’s decision to begin tracking donor-advised fund giving several years ago. 

Our communities will always value individual acts of generosity that keep our neighborhoods, well, neighborly. But to determine the reach of charitable work beyond our immediate spheres of influence, Giving USA’s data on money given to nonprofits is a helpful indicator of impact. 

Read “Giving USA’s Critics Are Wrong: Not All Forms of Giving Are Equal,” at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.