Google dot org blog - News from Googles Philanthropic Arm

Do our gifts do what we want?

In 2006, Americans gave more than $290 billion to charity. Which sounds great, but if our country is, as some say, "the most generous," we should ask ourselves a few questions: why are there growing numbers in line at food banks? When will American people give as much per capita for international aid as the Netherlands, for one?

Researchers like me live for tough questions like these. So now that the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and Google are tackling the issue of charitable giving and the proportion that is focused on the needs of the poor in the U.S. and on international aid, I expect my job to be very interesting for a long time to come.

We’re off to a great start. Yesterday we released the first Center on Philanthropy/Google study [PDF] which used data from Center household surveys about giving. Google executive Sheryl Sandberg authored an April Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "The Charity Gap" (subscription) using some of the preliminary data from the study. In this study, we use data about the types of charities that people (households) give to and estimate the share that is focused on the needs of the poor. For example, we found that about 8 percent of charitable dollars given by households goes for programs "helping to meet people’s basic needs." We estimate another 23 percent supports poverty-alleviation activities at other types of charities -- for example, employment skills training at neighborhood centers. There is still more work to be done to illuminate corporate giving, which is allocated differently than household contributions. In fact, one of the fastest growing areas for corporate donors is international aid, an area where has made significant commitments.

And we aren't done yet. The household surveys ask about why people give, so we can look at motivations, too. In one interesting contrast, we found in early analysis of another survey that nearly 6 in 10 people said they want to help people in need -- but nowhere near 60 percent of the dollars goes to programs meeting basic needs, such as food and shelter. Stay tuned for more from this combined research effort.

The Census Bureau reports 37 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. Half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day. Anyone can respond with charitable dollars. Research like this can help us understand where our money goes and what it helps to accomplish.

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