As Dow Sinks, Charity Traffic Goes Up

    January 13, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

There’s probably more than one way to interpret Bill Tancer’s chart comparing visits to the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) website and visits to charitable sites. At first glance, if you’re an optimist, it’s a shred of evidence to support faith in our better natures.

“I was surprised to discover that the month of December 2008 was an all-time high for charitable websites over the last three years, more than doubling traffic from Spring 2007,” writes Tancer, at the Hitwise blog.

That spike in charitable traffic, according Tancer’s graph, is inversely proportional to Dow Jones traffic. When DJIA traffic is way up, charity site traffic is way down, and vice versa. If you’re generally Pollyanna, like me on a good day, you want to say that as greed and individuality fails us we return to our sense of community and giving.

If you’re generally cynical, like me at my worst and most realistic*, you conjecture that as investments folded, failed investors began searching for open, bleeding hearts. Besides, visiting ain’t tantamount to giving, and everybody loves charity at Christmas anyhow.

Other numbers are equally as easy to spin. A recent Harris Interactive poll, conducted before Christmas, declared a more count-your-blessings type populace. Almost half of those polled said they were more likely to give a charitable gift as a present this year. Four in five said they’d prefer a charitable gift in their name in lieu of clothing or electronics for themselves.

Optimists’ response: We succeed individually but we suffer together.

Cynic’s response: You’d say the same thing if asked. Doing is something else.

While commenting on the survey, Harris’s SVP of pubic affairs and policy research, Justin Greeves, cites another study from The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University’s Giving USA Foundation showing that total charitable giving has increased in 39 of the past 40 years—even during times of recession.

Unfortunately for those of us who want to be optimists, Greeves did a bit of data cherry-picking there. If you adjust the total for inflation, the numbers are a bit different, and giving fell an average of one percent in recession years, vastly more in periods of longer recession (9.3 percent from 1973-1975). Between June and December 2008, the Philanthropic Giving Index (PGI), a measure of nonprofit fundraisers’ confidence in the current fundraising climate, plunged by 27 percent, a decline tripling the previous record drop in 2001.

Source for that information: The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Well sometimes, especially at Christmas, one needs a little positive spin. But you won’t get any from economist Mark Reiboldt, founder of Reiboldt & Co., who reports even the deep pockets of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are receding toward the beltline as the richest of the rich feel the pinch.

But wait, it gets worse. Reiboldt writes:

“The numbers for declines in non-profit revenues are even more dramatic right now due to the Bernie Madoff scandal, which directly impacted investments by a significant amount of the country’s largest and oldest charities.  Large chunks of the $50 billion losses in Madoff’s ponzi scheme came from non-profit organizations and charities for whom Madoff’s firm was managing their investment capital.”

Optimist’s response: Oh dear. Well, We can only go up, right? We’ll make up for it in sweat equity. Volunteer today!

Cynic’s response: Silence, followed by gunfire.

*Though the dictionary will likely give you separate definitions for realism and pessimism, they operate in much the same way by dwelling on what is, what is not, and what is probable, the pessimist relying slightly more on Murphy’s Law. So I see little need to separate them from the synonym box. The optimist, on the other hand, is a fool, a Bohemian, and a believer in what is possible. Generally I like him better and let me say that the world has never been changed by a realist, pragmatist, or pessimist. That is, if you acknowledge the world has ever actually changed.