Culture, Marketing, Non Profit Innovation

Charity in America: Stepping Over Dimes to Chase a Dollar

While it’s often said that Americans are a charitable people, the fact is some of us are more charitable than others.  The most charitable among us?  Working class folks.  Here’s the percentage of household income given to charity broken down by income level, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Household Income                                          Charitable Giving

$50,000 – $99,999                                             6.0 %

$100,000 – $199,999                                         4.2%

$200,000 +                                                          4.2%

That means that households with the least amount of disposable income and households that don’t benefit AT ALL from the tax deduction for charitable giving are almost 50% more generous than richer households. 


I saw this principle in action two weeks ago.

Key West is a magical place for many reasons, but one of them is the contest for King and Queen of Fantasy Fest.  By longstanding tradition, the title is conferred not based on politics or any particular talent, but by which candidate and their team can raise the most money for AIDS Help, the local AIDS service organization.  The campaigns are grassroots and quirky, just like Key West.  Check out some of the candidate’s videos .

And while close to 70,000 tourists stream into Key West for Fantasy Fest, and pay upwards of $400 per night for a hotel room, the campaign is concluded before the wealthy tourists arrive, meaning all the money must be raised from the locals during their slowest and most economically challenging time of the year in a tourism dependent economy.

By conventional fundraising standards, it’s all wrong.  It’s tapping the wrong audience at the wrong time of the year through an endless series of low dollar special events – car washes, barbecues, karaoke, bingo, etc, etc, etc.  But all those wrongs add up to a big right: this year they raised over $200,000 literally a dollar at a time.

It’s the smallest of small dollar fundraising but it works.

Yet most charities look down on their small donors, treat them badly, and trade their names back and forth as if their giving and their allegiance were meaningless.  Most charities look down on precisely those donors who have the greatest passion for the cause.

Instead of stepping over passionate low dollar contributors to search instead for those elusive “high net worth individual” prospects, charities need to become more efficient and more effective at recognizing and celebrating the passion of their most generous donors.