Quick take: I found this book fascinating. Incredibly useful for the complexity of how generosity happens; the latter 2/3 of the book were fantastic. The first third, however, was riddled with data errors that I suspect were due to poor copy-editing. Finally, the whole thing didn't need to be a book, but a great info-graphic with a supporting 30-page report.
Fortunately, I dug through it, and am giving you the best bits. By the end of the book, the research had "snapped" into a virtual Topography of Giving in my head. I know that sounds weird (and I am weird). Now that I have this topography in my head, however, I'm trying to see how it maps against museum-going and giving to museums. Thus, this is a long, denser review. But persevere! It will still take you far less time than reading the book, and the part about "how and why people give" (below) is worth it.
Why I picked it up: I am curious about why people make financial contributions to charities, and to museums in particular. And also why so few museum members become donors. This book doesn't address museum giving, but I hoped it would help me get into the mind of potential and current members and donors.
Overall premise of survey, brief data notes: Two researchers applied a "sociological perspective" to American giving, based on findings of a national study by the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. Research took place in 2010, and it took them six years to release it in this book.
Generosity is defined as "giving good things to others freely and abundantly." This isn't the same as philanthropy, which is narrower. Additionally, they studied nine types of generosity, focusing on three big ones (financial gifts, volunteering, and political action). To simplify this review, I'm only going to focus on financial gifts.
Their methodology looks good. But I found the text contradicting itself multiple times in the first two chapters, in ways that made absolutely no sense. My gut says poor copy-editing, but I ended up not spending considerable time here. That's OK. There's plenty of other philanthropy data out there. Some interesting points, however:
How and why people give (the fantastic bits!): The research went into four factors that drive a gift. I'm presenting them in a different order than the authors, but in the order I think makes more sense to how they are (likely unconsciously) experienced.
1. Personal orientation towards giving.
Does an individual value generosity? Why do an estimated 2/3 of the population value generosity, while a quarter are neutral about it and 10% say they are not generous individuals? What are the individual values that someone has that drives a tendency towards generosity? Five attitudes seemed to drive if someone is generous (or not):
They examined two more attitudes that do not seem to affect if someone is generous or not:
Shockingly (to me), they interviewed some individuals that said things like "it's not a moral obligation [to help others]." To themselves and their families, sure, it is. But not others. Wow.
The frustrating bit here is that while they identified these attitudes, they had no discussion of how these attitudes came to be. Such as external forces that shape, instruct, and model behavior in front of children. Yeah, I'm talking about parents primarily. I suspect they are key in value formation, and I wish the authors had addressed this head on. They didn't.
2. Social affiliations that support/not support personal orientation.
That is, the people around us. How do they inspire and support giving? Six social affiliations, and if they are generous (or at least perceived that way) seem to matter:
Of all these, the last two are weakest, and parents are the strongest. Some additional findings from this factor:
But, overall, social affiliations serve to strengthen giving; in almost all cases valuing generosity has to come first.
I was, however, somewhat frustrated by this section as the authors don't explore how these social affiliations can drive an individual's development of values, including generosity, in the first place. Instead, they state that these affiliations are independent and do not affect anything else. Honestly, I don't buy it. Maybe during adulthood, but these affiliations certainly shape a child's moral development … an area ripe for study and one ignored in this research.
3. Capacity to give.
To discuss this, the authors borrowed from Maslow, identifying four stages of giving that essentially mirror his hierarchy of needs. They noted, however, that they were looking at how resources and life stage affects how much/how broadly someone who is generous gives, not whether someone actually gave to charity. That is, someone who is generous may only be at the first level, and have no capacity to act on that generosity, but would if they had the resources.
That being said, let's look at those levels, and how capacity to give can help move people up the hierarchy.
To distinguish between the last two, it is the difference between sponsoring a child through, say Save the Children, where you see concrete results for one child (community-religious) versus supporting anti-poverty or relief organizations generally, such as Doctors Without Borders. Or, thinking of museums, a museum member could be at the relational-parental level, joining to provide enrichment experiences for children (and my data suggests science centers and children's museums have a lot of these members). But a major donor could fall into the self-actualized giving, perhaps for social standing reasons, but also perhaps inherently valuing the capacity of museums to change lives (I say inherently because museums really lack data on this one).
Note also that having ample resources does not mean generous giving. You have to value generosity as well (and be surrounded by givers helps too). That is, someone can be very wealthy and only take care of themselves and their family. And, similarly, having limited resources doesn't mean someone isn't a self-actualized giver. Limited can still mean having a capacity to give.
4. Their giving process.
Being financially generous isn't a simple ask/give transaction. It's more complicated than that, as every good development director inherently knows. They identified four main types of givers:
This section is probably the most directly useful to museum fundraising, because if you can figure out what type of giver someone is, you can tailor the pitch. You can even combine tactics that appeal to all four types of givers in one request.
Implications for museums: Just as motivations to visit museums (or not) is a complicated topography of individuals, so is giving. Figuring out how they work together is key, because that enables broadening reach and gifts. And it is something I am in the process of internalizing and applying to my work.
For example, I suspect that many planners also are HNCs (have a high need for cognition) and are intrinsically motivated to learn. The traits of planners as described in this book strike me as similar. And I suspect impulsive givers are less likely to visit museums regularly for similar reasons … and when they do they do so for relational-parental reasons (above), which would be extrinsic. See? Complicated topography.
This leads me to some questions that I'm going to apply to the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, that I have just pulled from the field. I want to think through the Topography of Giving as I do my analysis, especially given I asked specific questions about philanthropy and motivations for learning (intrinsic vs. extrinsic). I also want to compare it to my mental Topography of Museum-Going.
Then, on top of that, I want to layer it on a Topography of Community Engagement that I have been thinking about as well. This meshes with the values factors considered in the "personal orientation towards giving," and may be rather important.
I'll look at all of that because, well heck, it is a complicated and fascinating world, and it all matters to museums. Stay tuned to The Data Museum over the coming months as I release those results.
Read or skip? For most a skip. My summary and review will be sufficient. But if your read this and light bulbs were lighting up in your head, then go get a copy and you, too, can think obsessively about it. And likely sharpen your development skills.
Full citation: Herzog, Patricia Snell, and Price, Heather E. American Generosity: Who Gives and Why. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the lands of the Duwamish people, whose ancestors have lived here for generations. I thank them for their ongoing care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.