Democratization of Philanthropy
It is a fact that most giving comes from individuals and not institutions. Yet I have found little organized attention in the literature I have reviewed to the phenomenon we know as the "Democratization of Philanthropy." We know there has been an explosion of giving from those of modest means which makes possible the modern notion of philanthropy.
With its roots in the collection plate of the liberal Protestant churches of Colonial and post-Revolution America, and in the organized efforts of educational institutions (from Harvard and Yale and others who drew upon gifts from affluent alumni) to the early example of Booker T. Washington who nearly single-handedly raised the dollars needed to found and sustain the Tuskegee Institute (1881 to his death in 1915). Although he was most successful in attracting large gifts from the wealthy, he wrote: "by far the greater proportion of the money that has built up the institution has come in the form of donations from persons of modest means."
But it is at the time of World War I that the idea expands to embrace what we know today as the federated campaign.
During the War the Red Cross found it necessary to launch a broad public appeal to support its activities in Europe and at home. This major campaign (plus the success of earlier community efforts and community Patriotic Funds during the War) led directly to rapid development of community chests throughout the country soon after and ultimately to the United Way movement as we know it today.
According to Joyce Lew, a guest lecturer for my class on philanthropy and (until recently when she retired) responsible for Agency Relations for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, the notion of federated campaigns dates to at least 1873 in Cleveland, Ohio. Local leadership, concerned about the competitive nature of fundraising, created an early "community chest" known as the Cleveland and Bethel Relief Association. By 1913, she reported, the first modern community chests were formed. Following World War I, 1919-1929, the number of community chests increased dramatically from 39 to 353 nationally.
This movement was strengthened in 1936 when the Federal Tax Code authorized corporations to deduct charitable contributions up to 5% of pre tax income and it gathered extraordinary momentum with introduction of the payroll deduction concept in the late 1940s, following World War II.
The United Way in Detroit can be traced to World War I and the Patriotic Fund that was set up at that time to gather public support for the War effort. It was, by the way, chaired by Tracy McGregor, philanthropist, civic leader---and founder of the foundation that bears his name, the McGregor Fund.
Following the War, the Patriotic Fund became the Detroit Community Fund (1920). In 1942, during World War II, it was transformed again to be the War Chest of Metropolitan Detroit, but in 1949, under the leadership of Henry Ford II and others, it again became a community fund, now known as the United Fund. Today it is known as the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
The notion of federated campaigns has been so successful that we now have a proliferation of similar endeavors including the Allied Jewish Campaign, Black United Fund, the Federal Combined Campaign (for Federal employees), similar campaigns for state employees, and others.
Today the phenomenon of widespread campaigns and appeals to individuals of competence (as Carnegie would have identified most of us) and even lesser means, as well as those of wealth, is pervasive. We see it in Rock Concerts devoted to charity, to TV telethons, to the multiplicity of direct mail and telephone appeals that assault us all.
Solicitation of the individual is the bedrock for modern fundraising in this country.