Category Archives: trends

Research on giving in the Netherlands continues, funding secured

We are pleased to announce that the Center for Philanthropic Studies has been able to secure funding for continued research on giving in the Netherlands. The funding enables data collection for the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey among households, as well as data collection on corporations, foundations, charity lotteries, and bequests.

In the past 20 years, Giving in the Netherlands has been the prime source of data on trends in the size and composition of philanthropy in the Netherlands. Continuation of the research was uncertain for more than a year because the ministry of Justice and Security withdrew 50% of its funding, calling upon the philanthropic sector to co-fund the research. In an ongoing dialogue with the philanthropic sector, the VU-Center sought stronger alignment of the research with the need for research in practice. The Center has organized round table discussions and an advisory group of experts from the sector has been composed. The Center will use the insights from this dialogue in the research.

Meanwhile the fieldwork has started. Preliminary estimates of giving in the Netherlands will be discussed at a symposium for members of branch organizations in the philanthropic sector in the Fall of 2019. Full publication of the results is scheduled mid-April 2020, at the National Day of Philanthropy.

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Filed under Center for Philanthropic Studies, charitable organizations, corporate social responsibility, data, foundations, fundraising, household giving, informal giving, Netherlands, survey research, trends

Grootste goededoelenorganisaties ontvangen minder uit giften

Het ‘sectoronderzoek’ van Goede Doelen Nederland onder de 24 grootste goede doelen organisaties is weer verschenen. https://www.goededoelennederland.nl/system/files/public/Sector/190726%20Overzicht%20cijfers%20grote%20goede%20doelen%20met%20meer%20dan%2020%20miljoen.pdf

In het persbericht is onder de optimistische kop “Maatschappelijke betrokkenheid bij goede doelen onveranderd groot” te lezen dat “dat de resultaten in 2018 nagenoeg hetzelfde zijn als in 2017”. Ik zie iets anders. Drie tekenen aan de wand:

  1. De vrijgevigheid in Nederland neemt af. In 2018 ontvingen de grootste goede doelen in Nederland €571,6 miljoen, uit giften van particulieren en bedrijven. In 2017 was dit nog €583,6 miljoen. Een afname van 2%. De afname van giften van particulieren was bijna 4%. Tegelijk was de inflatie in Nederland 1,7%. De ontvangen euro’s zijn dus ook nog minder waard geworden.
  2. Een toename in inkomsten uit overheidssubsidie (goed voor 35% van de inkomsten van deze goede doelen), nalatenschappen (goed voor 12% van de inkomsten) en de goede doelen loterijen (nu 10% van de inkomsten) hebben de daling van de vrijgevigheid van particulieren en bedrijven opgevangen, maar niet goed gemaakt.
  3. De grootste goede doelen in Nederland besteden exact nul euro (= €0) aan opleidingen.

Update, 26 september 2019: ook de Volkskrant heeft de jaarverslagen van de grootste goededoelenorganisaties geanalyseerd en komt tot vergelijkbare conclusies. Zie hier het hoofdartikel dat op de voorpagina stond en hier het achtergrondartikel. Navraag bij het CBF leert dat de nul euro besteed aan opleidingen geen betrekking heeft op opleidingen van medewerkers, maar opleidingen van doelgroepen; de grootste goededoelenorganisaties zijn dus niet actief op het terrein van onderwijs.

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Global Giving: Open Grant Proposal

Here’s an unusual thing for you to read: I am posting a brief description of a grant proposal that I will submit for the ‘vici’-competition of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research 2019 later this year. You can download the “pre-proposal” here. It is called “Global Giving”. With the study I aim to describe and explain philanthropy in a large number of countries across the world. I invite you to review the “pre-proposal” and suggest improvements; please use the comments box below, or write to me directly.

You may have heard the story that university researchers these days spend a lot of their time writing grant proposals for funding competitions. Also you may have heard the story that chances of success in such competitions are getting smaller and smaller. These stories are all true. But the story you seldom hear is how such competitions actually work: they are a source of stress, frustration, burnouts and depression, and a complete waste of the precious time of the smartest people in the world. Recently, Gross and Bergstrom found that “the effort researchers waste in writing proposals may be comparable to the total scientific value of the research that the funding supports”.

Remember the last time you saw the announcement of prize winners in a research grant competition? I have not heard a single voice in the choir of the many near-winners speak up: “Hey, I did not get a grant!” It is almost as if everybody wins all the time. It is not common in academia to be open about failures to win. How many vitaes you have seen recently contain a list of failures? This is a grave distortion of reality. Less than one in ten applications is succesful. This means that for each winning proposal there are at least nine proposals that did not get funding. I want you to know how much time is wasted by this procedure. So here I will be sharing my experiences with the upcoming ‘vici’-competition.

single-shot-santa

First let me tell you about the funny name of the competition. The name ‘vici’ derives from roman emperor Caesar’s famous phrase in Latin: ‘veni, vidi, vici’, which he allegedly used to describe a swift victory. The translation is: “I came, I saw, I conquered”. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (‘Nederlandse organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek’, NWO) thought it fitting to use these names as titles of their personal grant schemes. The so-called ‘talent schemes’ are very much about the personal qualities of the applicant. The scheme heralds heroes. The fascination with talent goes against the very nature of science, where the value of an idea, method or result is not measured by the personality of the author, but by its validity and reliability. That is why peer review is often double blind and evaluators do not know who wrote the research report or proposal.

plt132

Yet in the talent scheme, the personality of the applicant is very important. The fascination with talent creates Matthew effects, first described in 1968 by Robert K. Merton. The name ‘Matthew effect’ derives from the biblical phrase “For to him who has will more be given” (Mark 4:25). Simply stated: success breeds success. Recently, this effect has been documented in the talent scheme by Thijs Bol, Matthijs de Vaan and Arnout van de Rijt. When two applicants are equally good but one – by mere chance – receives a grant and the other does not, the ‘winner’ is ascribed with talent and the ‘loser’ is not. The ‘winner’ then gets a tremendously higher chance of receiving future grants.

As a member of committees for the ‘veni’ competition I have seen how this works in practice. Applicants received scores for the quality of their proposal from expert reviewers before we interviewed them. When we had minimal differences between the expert reviewer scores of candidates – differing only in the second decimal – personal characteristics of the researchers such as their self-confidence and manner of speaking during the interview often made the difference between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Ultimately, such minute differences add up to dramatically higher chances to be a full professor 10 years later, as the analysis in Figure 4 of the Bol, De Vaan & Van de Rijt paper shows.

matthew

My career is in this graph. In 2005, I won a ‘veni’-grant, the early career grant that the Figure above is about. The grant gave me a lot of freedom for research and I enjoyed it tremendously. I am pretty certain that the freedom that the grant gave me paved the way for the full professorship that I was recently awarded, thirteen years later. But back then, the size of the grant did not feel right. I felt sorry for those who did not make it. I knew I was privileged, and the research money I obtained was more than I needed. It would be much better to reduce the size of grants, so that a larger number of researchers can be funded. Yet the scheme is there, and it is a rare opportunity for researchers in the Netherlands to get funding for their own ideas.

This is my third and final application for a vici-grant. The rules for submission of proposals in this competition limit the number of attempts to three. Why am I going public with this final attempt?

The Open Science Revolution

You will have heard about open science. Most likely you will associate it with the struggle to publish research articles without paywalls, the exploitation of government funded scientists by commercial publishers, and perhaps even with Plan S. You may also associate open science with the struggle to get researchers to publish the data and the code they used to get to their results. Perhaps you have heard about open peer review of research publications. But most likely you will not have heard about open grant review. This is because it rarely happens. I am not the first to publish my proposal; the Open Grants repository currently contains 160 grant proposals. These proposals were shared after the competitions had run. The RIO Journal published 52 grant proposals. This is only a fraction of all grant proposals being created, submitted and reviewed. The many advantages of open science are not limited to funded research, they also apply to research ideas and proposals. By publishing my grant proposal before the competition, the expert reviews, the recommendations of the committee, my responses and experiences with the review process, I am opening up the procedure of grant review as much as possible.

Stages in the NWO Talent Scheme Grant Review Procedure

Each round of this competition takes almost a year, and proceeds in eight stages:

  1. Pre-application – March 26, 2019 <– this is where we are now
  2. Non-binding advice from committee: submit full proposal, or not – Summer 2019
  3. Full proposal – end of August 2019
  4. Expert reviews – October 2019
  5. Rebuttal to criticism in expert reviews – end of October 2019
  6. Selection for interview – November 2019
  7. Interview – January or February 2020
  8. Grant, or not – March 2020

If you’re curious to learn how this application procedure works in practice,
check back in a few weeks. Your comments and suggestions on the ideas above and the pre-proposal are most welcome!

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Onderzoek Geven in Nederland in gevaar

Door Barbara Gouwenberg – uit de nieuwsbrief van de werkgroep Filantropische Studies aan de VU (december 2018)

Het Centrum voor Filantropische Studies werkt momenteel met man en macht om de financiering voor het onderzoek Geven in Nederland voor de komende 6 jaar (3 edities) veilig te stellen. Het Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid (J&V) heeft bij de opzet van Geven in Nederland 2017 medio 2015 te kennen gegeven dat het onderzoek niet langer alleen door de overheid zal worden gefinancierd, met als belangrijkste argumentatie dat het onderzoek van belang is voor overheid én sector filantropie. De overheid ziet zichzelf niet langer als enige verantwoordelijke voor de financiering van het onderzoek.

Het Ministerie van J&V wil zich wel voor een langere tijd structureel verbinden aan Geven in Nederland en geeft 1:1 matching voor financiële bijdragen die de VU vanuit de sector ontvangt.

Om de maatschappelijke relevantie van – en commitment voor – het onderzoek Geven in Nederland te versterken heeft de VU de afgelopen maanden de dialoog opgezocht met diverse relevante doelgroepen. Doel: wetenschap en praktijk dichter bij elkaar brengen.

Deze rondgang heeft ons – naast specifieke inzichten – drie belangrijke algemene inzichten opgeleverd; te weten:

  • ‘Geven in Nederland’ draagt bij aan de zichtbaarheid van maatschappelijk initiatief in Nederland. Belangrijk ter legitimatie van een zelfstandige en snel groeiende sector.
  • Communicatie met relevante doelgroepen vóór de start van het onderzoek dient verbeterd te worden met als doel om inhoudelijk beter aansluiting te vinden bij praktijk en beleid.
  • Communicatie over onderzoeksresultaten naar relevante doelgroepen dient verbeterd te worden. Het gaat dan om de praktische toepasbaarheid van het onderzoek, de vertaling van de onderzoeksresultaten naar de praktijk.

De onderzoekers nemen deze verbeterpunten mee in hun plan van aanpak voor de komende drie edities. De VU is al enige tijd in gesprek met de brancheorganisaties en individuele fondsen om tot een duurzaam financieringsmodel voor de toekomst te komen. Op dit moment is de continuering van het onderzoek echter nog niet gegarandeerd. Dat betekent dat er helaas geen Geven in Nederland 2019 komt en dus ook geen presentatie van de nieuwe onderzoeksresultaten zoals u van ons gewend bent op de Dag van de Filantropie. We spreken echter onze hoop uit dat we zeer binnenkort met een Geven in Nederland 2020 kunnen starten!

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Twenty Years of Generosity in the Netherlands

PaperARNOVA 2017 Presentation – Materials at Open Science Framework

In the past two decades, philanthropy in the Netherlands has gained significant attention, from the general public, from policy makers, as well as from academics. Research on philanthropy in the Netherlands has documented a substantial increase in amounts donated to charitable causes since data on giving in the Netherlands have become available in the mid-1990s (Bekkers, Gouwenberg & Schuyt, 2017). What has remained unclear, however, is how philanthropy has developed in relation to the growth of the economy at large and the growth of consumer expenditure. For the first time, we bring together all the data on philanthropy available from eleven editions of the Giving in the Netherlands survey among households (n = 16,344), to answer the research question: how can trends in generosity in the Netherlands in the past 20 years be explained?

 

The Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey

One of the strengths of the GINPS is the availability of data on prosocial values and attitudes towards charitable causes. In 2002, the Giving in the Netherlands survey among households was transformed from a cross-sectional to a longitudinal design (Bekkers, Boonstoppel & De Wit, 2017). The GIN Panel Survey has been used primarily to answer questions on the development of these values and attitudes in relation to changes in volunteering activities (Bekkers, 2012; Van Ingen & Bekkers, 2015; Bowman & Bekkers, 2009). Here we use the GINPS in a different way. First we describe trends in generosity, i.e. amounts donated as a proportion of income. Then we seek to explain these trends, focusing on prosocial values and attitudes towards charitable causes.

 

How generous are the Dutch?

Vis-à-vis the rich history of charity and philanthropy in the Netherlands (Van Leeuwen, 2012), the current state of giving is rather poor. On average, charitable donations per household in 2015 amounted to €180 per year or 0,4% of household income. The median gift is €50 (De Wit & Bekkers, 2017). In the past fifteen years, the trend in generosity is downward: the proportion of income has declined slowly but steadily since 1999 (Bekkers, De Wit & Wiepking, 2017). In 2015, giving as a proportion of income has declined by one-fifth of its peak in 1999 (see Figure 1).

GIV_CEX

Figure 1: Household giving as a proportion of consumer expenditure (Source: Bekkers, De Wit & Wiepking, 2017)

 

Why has generosity of households in the Netherlands declined?

The first explanation is declining religiosity. Because giving is encouraged by religious communities, the decline of church affiliation and practice has reduced charitable giving, as in the US (Wilhelm, Rooney & Tempel, 2007). The disappearance of religiosity from Dutch society has reduced charitable giving because the non-religious have become more numerous. The decline in religiosity explains about 40% of the decline in generosity we observe in the period 2001-2015. In Figure 2 we see a similar decline in generosity to religion (the red line) as to other organizations (the blue line).

REL_NREL

Figure 2: Household giving to religion (red) and to other causes (blue) as a proportion of household income (Source: Bekkers, De Wit & Wiepking, 2017)

 

We also find that those who are still religious have become much more generous. Figure 3 shows that the amounts donated by Protestants (the green line) have almost doubled in the past 20 years. The amounts donated by Catholics (the red line) have also doubled, but are much lower. The non-religious have not increased their giving at all in the past 20 years. However, the increasing generosity of the religious has not been able to turn the tide.

REL_DEN

Figure 3: Household giving by non-religious (blue), Catholics (red) and Protestants (green) in Euros (Source: Bekkers, De Wit & Wiepking, 2017)

The second explanation is that prosocial values have declined. Because generosity depends on empathic concern and moral values such as the principle of care (Bekkers & Ottoni-Wilhelm, 2016), the loss of such prosocial values has reduced generosity. Prosocial values have lost support, and the loss of prosociality explains about 15% of the decline in generosity. The loss of prosocial values itself, however, is closely connected to the disappearance of religion. About two thirds of the decline in empathic concern and three quarters of the decline in altruistic values is explained by the reduction of religiosity.

In addition, we see that prosocial values have also declined among the religious. Figure 4 shows that altruistic values have declined not only for the non-religious (blue), but also for Catholics (red) and Protestants (green).

REL_AV

Figure 4: Altruistic values among the non-religious (blue), Catholics (red) and Protestants (green) (Source: Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey, 2002-2014).

Figure 5 shows a similar development for generalized social trust.

REL_TRUST

Figure 5: Generalized social trust among the non-religious (blue), Catholics (red) and Protestants (green)  (Source: Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey, 2002-2016).

Speaking of trust: as donations to charitable causes rely on a foundation of charitable confidence, it may be argued that the decline of charitable confidence is responsible for the decline in generosity (O’Neill, 2009). However, we find that the decline in generosity is not strongly related to the decline in charitable confidence, once changes in religiosity and prosocial values are taken into account. This finding indicates that the decline in charitable confidence is a sign of a broader process of declining prosociality.

 

What do our findings imply?

What do these findings mean for theories and research on philanthropy and for the practice of fundraising?

First, our research clearly demonstrates the utility of including questions on prosocial values in surveys on philanthropy, as they have predictive power not only for generosity and changes therein over time, but also explain relations of religiosity with generosity.

Second, our findings illustrate the need to develop distinctive theories on generosity. Predictors of levels of giving measured in euros can be quite different from predictors of generosity as a proportion of income.

For the practice of fundraising, our research suggests that the strategies and propositions of charitable causes need modification. Traditionally, fundraising organizations have appealed to empathic concern for recipients and prosocial values such as duty. As these have become less prevalent, propositions appealing to social impact with modest returns on investment may prove more effective.

Also fundraising campaigns in the past have been targeted primarily at loyal donors. This strategy has proven effective and religious donors have shown resilience in their increasing financial commitment to charitable causes. But this is not a feasible long term strategy as the size of this group is getting smaller. A new strategy is required to commit new generations of donors.

 

 

References

Bekkers, R. (2012). Trust and Volunteering: Selection or Causation? Evidence from a Four Year Panel Study. Political Behavior, 32 (2): 225-247.

Bekkers, R., Boonstoppel, E. & De Wit, A. (2017). Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey – User Manual, Version 2.6. Center for Philanthropic Studies, VU Amsterdam.

Bekkers, R. & Bowman, W. (2009). The Relationship Between Confidence in Charitable Organizations and Volunteering Revisited. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 38 (5): 884-897.

Bekkers, R., De Wit, A. & Wiepking, P. (2017). Jubileumspecial: Twintig jaar Geven in Nederland. In: Bekkers, R. Schuyt, T.N.M., & Gouwenberg, B.M. (Eds.). Geven in Nederland 2017: Giften, Sponsoring, Legaten en Vrijwilligerswerk. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

Bekkers, R. & Ottoni-Wilhelm, M. (2016). Principle of Care and Giving to Help People in Need. European Journal of Personality, 30(3): 240-257.

Bekkers, R., Schuyt, T.N.M., & Gouwenberg, B.M. (Eds.). Geven in Nederland 2017: Giften, Sponsoring, Legaten en Vrijwilligerswerk. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

De Wit, A. & Bekkers, R. (2017). Geven door huishoudens. In: Bekkers, R., Schuyt, T.N.M., & Gouwenberg, B.M. (Eds.). Geven in Nederland 2017: Giften, Sponsoring, Legaten en Vrijwilligerswerk. Amsterdam: Lenthe Publishers.

O’Neill, M. (2009). Public Confidence in Charitable Nonprofits. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 38: 237–269.

Van Ingen, E. & Bekkers, R. (2015). Trust Through Civic Engagement? Evidence From Five National Panel Studies. Political Psychology, 36 (3): 277-294.

Wilhelm, M.O., Rooney, P.M. and Tempel, E.R. (2007). Changes in religious giving reflect changes in involvement: age and cohort effects in religious giving, secular giving, and attendance. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 46 (2): 217–32.

Van Leeuwen, M. (2012). Giving in early modern history: philanthropy in Amsterdam in the Golden Age. Continuity & Change, 27(2): 301-343.

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Introducing Mega-analysis

How to find truth in an ocean of correlations – with breakers, still waters, tidal waves, and undercurrents? In the old age of responsible research and publication, we would collect estimates reported in previous research, and compute a correlation across correlations. Those days are long gone.

In the age of rat race research and publication it became increasingly difficult to do a meta-analysis. It is a frustrating experience for anyone who has conducted one: endless searches on the Web of Science and Google Scholar to collect all published research, input the estimates in a database, find that a lot of fields are blank, email authors for zero-order correlations and other statistics they had failed to report in their publications and get very little response.

Meta-analysis is not only a frustrating experience, it is also a bad idea when results that authors do not like do not get published. A host of techniques have been developed to find and correct publication bias, but the problem that we do not know the results that do not get reported is not solved easily.

As we enter the age of open science,  we do not have to rely any longer on the far from perfect cooperation from colleagues who have moved to a different university, left academia, died, or think you’re trying to prove them wrong and destroy your career. We can simply download all the raw data and analyze them.

Enter mega-analysis: include all the data points relevant for a certain hypothesis, cluster them by original publication, date, country, or any potentially relevant property of the research design, and add the substantial predictors you find documented in the literature. The results reveal not only the underlying correlations between substantial variables, but also the differences between studies, periods, countries and design properties that affect these correlations.

The method itself is not new. In epidemiology, and Steinberg et al. (1997) labeled it ‘meta-analysis of individual patient data’. In human genetics, genome wide association studies (GWAS) by large international consortia are common examples of mega-analysis.

Mega-analysis includes the file-drawer of papers that never saw the light of day after they were put in. It also includes the universe of papers that have never been written because the results were unpublishable.

If meta-analysis gives you an estimate for the universe of published research, mega-analysis can be used to detect just how unique that universe is in the milky way. My prediction would be that correlations in published research are mostly further from zero than the same correlation in a mega-analysis.

Mega-analysis bears great promise for the social sciences. Samples for population surveys are large, which enables optimal learning from variations in sampling procedures, data collection mode, and questionnaire design. It is time for a Global Social Science Consortium that pools all of its data. As an illustration, I have started a project on the Open Science Framework that mega-analyzes generalized social trust. It is a public project: anyone can contribute. We have reached mark of 1 million observations.

The idea behind mega-analysis originated from two different projects. In the first project, Erik van Ingen and I analyzed the effects of volunteering on trust, to check if results from an analysis of the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey (Van Ingen & Bekkers, 2015) would replicate with data from other panel studies. We found essentially the same results in five panel studies, although subtle differences emerged in the quantative estimates. In the second project, with Arjen de Wit and colleagues from the Center for Philanthropic Studies at VU Amsterdam, we analyzed the effects of volunteering on well-being conducted as part of the EC-FP7 funded ITSSOIN study. We collected 845.733 survey responses from 154.970 different respondents in six panel studies, spanning 30 years (De Wit, Bekkers, Karamat Ali & Verkaik, 2015). We found that volunteering is associated with a 1% increase in well-being.

In these projects, the data from different studies were analyzed separately. I realized that we could learn much more if the data are pooled in one single analysis: a mega-analysis.

References

De Wit, A., Bekkers, R., Karamat Ali, D., & Verkaik, D. (2015). Welfare impacts of participation. Deliverable 3.3 of the project: “Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation” (ITSSOIN), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research.

Van Ingen, E. & Bekkers, R. (2015). Trust Through Civic Engagement? Evidence From Five National Panel StudiesPolitical Psychology, 36 (3): 277-294.

Steinberg, K.K., Smith, S.J., Stroup, D.F., Olkin, I., Lee, N.C., Williamson, G.D. & Thacker, S.B. (1997). Comparison of Effect Estimates from a Meta-Analysis of Summary Data from Published Studies and from a Meta-Analysis Using Individual Patient Data for Ovarian Cancer Studies. American Journal of Epidemiology, 145: 917-925.

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Five challenging questions on philanthropy

The recent success of the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS across the world raises numerous questions on philanthropy. In this post I give some background information to answer five of these questions.

 

1. Where will it end?

It is hard to predict how much money will be raised for ALS through the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some two weeks after the campaign really took off it has raised more than £100 million according to this UK source.  The growth of donations to the ALS Association in the US now shows signs of decline, suggesting that the campaign is losing energy.

IceBucket_graph

Source: Tweet by Ethan O. Perlstein, August 29, 2014

If the S-shape in the graph above continues, total donations to the ALS Association in the US could reach $120 million.

IceBucket_graph_extra

 

2. Will other charities lose from the challenge?

It is often assumed that donors think about donations from a fixed annual budget: a dollar donated to the ALS Association cannot go to other charities. From this perspective, the Ice Bucket Challenge would come at the expense of other charities. However, it is also possible that the campaign does not affect other charities. There are many examples of campaigns that have not decreased amounts to other charities. In the Netherlands, the success of the Alpe d’Huzes bike rides against cancer has increased the amounts donated to the Dutch Cancer Society, while other health charities on average do not seem to have lost. Also for the Cancer Society itself the success of the bike ride has not come at the expense of regular fundraising campaigns, until questions were asked about the ‘no overhead costs’ policy promoted by the organizers of the event.

Also there is the possibility that people will donate more to health charities (or charities in general) because they become more aware of the need for donations. When I was nominated for the challenge by my wife my response was to donate to the Rare Diseases Foundation (ZZF), a Dutch foundation supporting research on a variety of rare diseases. My best bet is that the Ice Bucket Challenge is a fortuitous fundraising event that does not come at the expense of donations to other charities.

 

3. Is the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge ‘fair’ given the relative rarity of ALS as a disease?

Looking at all deaths in the course of a year, ALS is a relatively rare cause of death, as US data from the CDC show. Fi Douglas made a comparison with amounts donated, showing that donations do not seem to be directed towards the most lethal diseases.

diseases_donations

Source: Tweet by Fi Douglas, August 23, 2014

In a paper I published back in 2008, I compared donations to charities fighting groups of diseases and the number of deaths that these diseases cause. Giving in Netherlands to health charities seems more needs-based. It should be noted that the relatively high donations to charities fighting diseases of the nervous system is not due to the Netherlands ALS association, but mainly to other health charities.

Fundraising_Income_Needs_Netherlands_2008

 

4. What is the effectiveness of donations to the ALS Association?

When people think about the effectiveness of donations, they often look for financial information about revenues and expenses. These numbers have limited value, but let’s look at them for what they are worth. According to its annual report, the Netherlands ALS association raised €6.5 million in 2013 and spent about €7 million on research, dipping into its endowment. The costs of fundraising approached €0.5 million, a relatively low proportion relative to the ALS Association in the US (ALSA). The ALSA annual report tells us the association spent $7 million on research in 2013, and $3.6 million on fundraising, having raised a total of $29 million. One could say fundraising in the US is less effective, more difficult, or simply more expensive than in the Netherlands.

However, these numbers tell us nothing about the effectiveness of Ice Bucket Challenge donations. Their effectiveness depends completely on how the millions that are raised will be spent. From my limited knowledge on ALS it seems that the development of treatments or drugs against the disease is not on the verge of a breakthrough. Even though it would be premature to expect an effective ALS treatment any time soon, the sheer size of the amounts donated now will enable researchers to make some big steps. Now the stakes have been raised, donors may expect a well thought-through strategy of the ALS associations to spend the money in a responsible manner. The challenge for the ALS associations across the world is to manage donor expectations: to carefully communicate the uncertainty inherent in the development of medical innovations while avoiding disappointment and anger among donors expecting quick results.

Moreover, some have questioned the utility of health research charities relative to other charities, saying that there are more effective ways to spend donations. In the Netherlands this opinion was expressed by my colleague from Rotterdam, Kellie Liket, in one of the major national newspapers, De Volkskrant. Some of the responses to this op-ed piece have identified the same substitution logic that we saw above; a logic that can be questioned. More importantly, the opinion depends on the assumptions made about what counts towards the ‘effect’ of a donation. If we count lives saved per dollar contributed, medical research does not have a strong position in the debate. We can save many more lives by donating to improve health and living conditions in developing countries, where life is much less expensive to begin with. The same $100 buys more health in a poorer country, all else being equal. But this is not the health of people we know, or the health of loved ones who have suffered from a disease. It is our greater empathy for people close to us that makes us donate more readily to certain causes than others.

 

5. Why should we give to a certain cause or organization?

Perhaps the most fundamental question raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge is a moral one. While research on philanthropy may show that we give out of compassion for people we know, there are many other reasons for people to give to charity. The joy of giving, aversion of guilt, being asked to give or seeing someone else give, the desire to obtain prestige, or simply an unexpected windfall or a ray of sunshine can motivate people to give. What we think of these circumstances and reasons is a different matter. The wisdom on the ethics of giving is much older than the 120 years of empirical research on philanthropy since Thorstein Veblen’s description of donations by the late 19th century New York elite as forms of conspicuous consumption. In the 12th century, Maimonides described eight levels of charity. Giving in response to a request is lower than anonymous giving; the highest form of giving would make recipients self-reliant and their dependence on charity disappear. Because of its largely public nature, the Ice Bucket Challenge can be placed on the lower rungs of Rambam’s Golden Ladder of Charity; but you can choose your favorite manner of donating in response to the challenge. And who knows: in the very long run, even your grudgingly accepted challenge and public donation may contribute to a cure for ALS – making victims of the disease less dependent on the charity of their loved ones.

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