"Raising Generous Humans"
with Dr. Una Osili
Season 8, Episode 6

Dr. Una Osili is a Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University. She serves as Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Dean’s Fellow for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at Indiana University. She leads the research and publication of the Global Resource Flows Index and the Global Philanthropy Environment Index, which are the leading sources of global development and social innovation data trends. She also leads the research and publication of the Philanthropy Panel Study, which is the most comprehensive study of the generosity of American families over time, The Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, and the One Million Dollar List of Charitable Gifts. She is also the founder of Generosity for Life, a digital platform that provides new data tools for financial decision making in the area of social impact and philanthropy.

Una has provided expert testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Joint Economic Committee of the US. Congress. She has provided advisory policy and consulting support for national and global institutions, including the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, United Nations Development Program, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the US. Chamber of Commerce, the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and many others. She has also shared her expertise and insights in numerous media outlets, including NPR. The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Una has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Harvard University, and a Master’s and Ph. D. In Economics from Northwestern University.

In this Episode you will learn:

  • The real meaning of philanthropy
  • The 5 Ts of being a philanthropist
  • Surprising ways to get your kids of any age excited about philanthropy
  • How the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the world’s first philanthropy school,
    leverages data to help us all understand why giving back is so important to changing the
    world for the better
  • Why we need philanthropy more than ever

Petal Modeste: Dr. Una Osili is a mother and a Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University.  She serves as Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and she is the Dean’s Fellow for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at Indiana university. She pioneers new approaches to using data to better understand global and national trends in philanthropy. She leads the research and publication of the Global Resource Flows Index and the Global Philanthropy Environment Index, which are the leading sources of global development and social innovation data trends. She also leads the research and publication of the Philanthropy Panel Study, which is the most comprehensive study of the generosity of American families over time; the Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, and the One Million Dollar List of Charitable Gifts. She’s also the founder of Generosity for Life, a digital platform that provides new data tools for financial decision making in the area of social impact and philanthropy.

She has provided expert testimony to the US. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Joint Economic Committee of the US. Congress. She has provided advisory policy and consulting support for national and global institutions, including the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, United Nations Development Program, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the US. Chamber of Commerce, the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and many others. She has also shared her expertise and insights in numerous media outlets, including NPR. The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Una has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Harvard University, and a Master’s and PhD. in Economics from Northwestern University.

Welcome, Una, to Parenting for the Future. I am so humbled and honored to have you here.

Dr. Una Osili: Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be with you today, and really looking forward to the conversation.

Petal Modeste: So. Your parents, if I remember, are Nigerian and American.

You have three sisters and one brother and you are all amazingly accomplished and doing great things in the world. So tell us a little bit about your bringing what values and people shaped your early life. What was growing up in. That’s a pretty big family. What was growing up in that family like.

Dr. Una Osili: Yes. Well, we all agree that a lot of our early influences do come from our parents. We were very fortunate to be born into a family where learning was really encouraged. My sister and I were born in New York City, and then our parents moved back to Nigeria to help build this new nation. Nigeria was independent in the 1960s and they moved back in the early 1970s to help build the university community, and we were very fortunate to grow up in that type of environment, a college campus surrounded by so many adults that poured into us from a learning perspective. It was a really a wonderful childhood. Our parents are both professors. My mother is a historian, my father is a pharmacologist, and our household was steeped with a learning in the sciences, but also in literature, in history, and we soaked that all in. And I’d also say that one of the core values of our family was around a generosity, generosity broadly defined. My father is a very generous person. He was the first person in his family to get a formal education all the way through. Getting a Ph.D. At Cornell medical school, but he was determined that others in his family would also have that experience, so he invested in his nieces. His nephews made sure they all had access to an education. My mother is American from New York, and she also wanted us to learn about giving and generosity and volunteering, and she took us as young kids to a local orphanage, and also to a senior citizens home that was not too far from our house, and really demonstrated how you use your talents, your time, your energy, and your voice to lift up causes that really matter to you. So we’ve all taken those lessons and woven them into our lives. I think all my siblings. my 3 sisters and my brother are all very involved in helping others, and serving and using their platforms to lift up others that may have more challenges than we have had in our own lives.

Petal Modeste: And clearly, it has also impacted where you have chosen to focus your career you’re an economist by training but you have pursued an academic career that’s focused on the field of philanthropy. What inspired you to focus your career on the economics of charity, of giving?

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, it’s a great question. I was always interested in these questions. As an undergraduate, I was involved in giving and nonprofits in volunteering and fast forward the tape to graduate school. I started working on my dissertation, and noticed at the time that there was very little information about the money that immigrants sent back to their home countries. Remittances are a vital part of the development finance landscape. They outstrip foreign direct investment in many countries. They exceed official development assistance in many parts of the world. But at the time when I was working on my thesis there was very little information about remittances. So I set out to close that gap. That’s what got me started, not just as an economist, but also to start asking questions about philanthropy.

In my work dissertation research, I was able to literally unpack remittances and understand that some of those funds are sent directly to family members in the country of origin, whether that’s in Asia, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, European countries. But some of those funds are also investment related. Migrants are investing in projects in their home countries or home communities. But there’s a third category that hasn’t been studied very much, and I would say that was my entry point into the academic study of philanthropies. Looking at how immigrants contribute to philanthropic opportunities and projects in their home communities. Some of those may be helping with school projects, education, water sanitation assisting the communities, the countries, the regions that they came from and collecting data on. it is something that really got me thinking about what motivates giving.

Petal Modeste: Yeah.

Dr. Una Osili: What Drives people to be generous? What are the incentives at a policy level? But also what holds countries and communities back. And so those have been questions that I have been interested in for quite some time, and I’ve had the opportunity, as a researcher to collect data, to answer some of those questions and also to encourage others who are interested in studying with many of our graduate students working on these topics as well.

Petal Modeste: It’s pretty fascinating. I mean some of things that you just said about remittances, I knew, but I did not know about immigrants sending home money supporting philanthropic projects. I have just never appreciated that. So let’s talk in more detail about your work, because one of the things that occurred to me when I was preparing for this is that philanthropy can mean many different things to many different people. A lot of us, I think, believe that philanthropy means it’s wealthy people giving generous amounts of money to good causes. But is that all it is? Or should we consider a somewhat broader definition of philanthropy, and when you answer that the other piece of this question is: why is philanthropy so important? Where would we be as a human family if we did not have philanthropy?

Dr. Una Osili: Well, I’m so glad you asked me that question. Let me try to put some frameworks around that concept. So what is philanthropy? At the Lilly Family School we actually talk about philanthropy as private action for the public good. Anytime you take an action, whether that’s a volunteer action, whether you give money, whether you give your talents to advance the public good, you are a philanthropist. So, it can be someone who volunteers is a philanthropist. Someone who gives a few pennies is a philanthropist. It’s not so much about the dollar amount it’s the act of giving. And now another definition of philanthropy that I actually think about all the time when I try to share these ideas is the root of the word. Philanthropy is actually love of humanity. A philanthropist is someone who really cares about others and wants to make a difference in the world. And when you use that broader framework, you see philanthropy in everything you do.

During the pandemic especially, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really see how our neighbors were stepping up. Some were tipping their service providers even when they weren’t using their services. Some were donating masks, sewing masks, providing to their neighbors who didn’t have access to transportation. All of those acts combined actually create what we think about as the philanthropic sector meaning, it includes people of all different backgrounds, income levels, race ethnicity, cultural, religious orientation. And when we look at America today, that is one of the, I would say, unique aspects of our economy and our country and our history. The fact that you can literally scope every institution that impacts our lives and see the footprint of philanthropy. Whether that’s higher education, disaster, relief, our local arts, organizations are all infused with this idea of individuals contributing their time, their talents, and their energy, usually to make their community better. Part of this story of America is that institutions of higher learning, many of them were started by the philanthropists or group of philanthropists, and that has continued over time. It’s not just about the large donors, although that’s who we tend to focus on. But it’s also about the everyday donors, the folks who are volunteering, who are giving their time, who are lending their voice.

Petal Modeste: So where would we be without it? I mean you, you just mentioned so many important institutions, educational institutions. So many ways that philanthropy touches our lives. Where would we be if we didn’t have that generosity of spirit?

Dr. Una Osili: I tend to think about 3 areas where we really see the impact of philanthropy. One is the safety net, and that is in many countries the government. Here in the United States we have what you would call more of a private-public system, where, of course, there is government assistance. But they’re also lots of institutions religious congregations, community based institutions that help support those in need. So I think that’s somewhere where we see the influence of the philanthropic sector. But we also see the influence of the philanthropic sector around innovation, testing new ideas, whether it’s in the research space where philanthropists donate to get certain ideas off the ground where we saw that recently, with the Covid vaccine where philanthropy helped with the testing and shortening that innovation cycle to bring new ideas to the marketplace. And the third area, where we see the footprint of philanthropy is really in in terms of the quality of our lives, both intellectual and spiritual, and also the social cohesion. So that includes the arts and culture sector, where there is so much creativity, our museums, a lot of those are built on the foundation of philanthropy and what holds communities together. Whether that’s the religious congregations our community based organizations, many of them are powered, or at least have a strong foundation around philanthropy. So if I had to sum it all up, I’d say a lot of the aspects of our public life, Philanthropy does play a role. Here in the United States we have really had the advantage of allowing private capital to help shape a lot of our institutions. And it’s not just the money, It’s the talent and the idea.

Petal Modeste: So, your school, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University was the first school of philanthropy in the world. Do you know how it came to be? And what core values drives your work at the Lilly Family School?

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, it’s a great question. I was very fortunate to be at the forefront of a lot of the changes that took place when I joined Indiana University. It was the center on philanthropy. It was the world’s first academic center on philanthropy, and it had a core group of social scientists, bench scientists as well as people across the humanities, who were all working on these topics, so very multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary group of scholars. And, in 2013 we became a school. The motivation for this was that around the world there was more interest in what you would call the third sector. So we have business schools, that training for the for profit sector. We certainly have schools of public policy that focus. on training people who are going to work in government. But as the nonprofit sector has grown, there hasn’t necessarily been that same talent preparation. And today the nonprofit sector accounts for 13% of the workforce. And so, the idea was to create a permanent place where individuals who wanted to dedicate their careers to working in the in the nonprofit sector and social innovation, and actually have an intentional talent pipeline. Alongside that there is research at the school.  We house a number of leading research projects, but we also have one of the largest executive development training enterprises in the nonprofit sector and train about 4,000 people every year around fundraising. And with our doctoral program, about half of our students come from outside the United States. So we’re also seeing a lot of interest in the philanthropic sector, the Social Enterprise sector around the world.

Petal Modeste: So, I mentioned in the introduction that you lead the research and publication of several consequential philanthropic Indices, including the Global Resource Flows Index and the Global Philanthropy Environment Index. Can you tell us a little bit about each index, including how they are used by organizations or governments or individuals.

Dr. Una Osili: The global indices are one of our foremost projects, because they provide deep insights and timely insights into how the global landscape is changing. And the most recent global philanthropy tracker provides a snapshot of how the world has actually shifted since the COVID-19 pandemic. So just to get sense of the numbers. We found that during the pandemic remittances actually grew by double digit rates. We found that philanthropy remained resilient. In other words, people continue to give even very tough times. But in contrast, official development assistance was relatively flat, so foreign aid did not grow very rapidly, and foreign direct investment actually shrunk. And so one way to think about all these data points is that philanthropy and remittances were more counter-cyclical. They were able to respond to the shocks. And those insights come from our Global Philanthropy Tracker. In addition, we can put some numbers around what role each of these, cross border flows play. For some of the countries that we track, by far the largest slice of the pie is remittances official development assistance is more on the decline in many parts of the world and then foreign direct investment has been more volatile during these pandemic periods. So, the Global Philanthropy Tracker is what allows us to put the numbers around, how much is going across borders? How do big events, like pandemics, disasters other crises in parts of the world, shape those flows? And then, we have another project which will be launched in 2025, called the Global Philanthropy Environment index and that takes stock of how the environment is evolving around philanthropy, what incentives exist for people to give, what are the obstacles to giving and what’s holding, giving back.

And what we found is that project is that the policy environment does make a difference. And in places where their obstacles or barriers to giving people are less likely to give. All these data points have been tremendously beneficial around the world, because being able to see how much is going to a particular cause one thing, we’ve learned is that despite all the advances we’ve made in the past few years, the top two causes are health and education. Many other areas are still evolving climate philanthropy being one. We’re also seeing very little funding going towards pandemic preparedness. So when we put all this data together, it also allows us to identify gaps and show opportunities for collaboration.

Petal Modeste: You also lead research and publication for the Philanthropy Panel Study, which is the most comprehensive study of generosity of American families over time. How is generosity defined for purposes of the study?

Dr. Una Osili: the Philanthropy Panel Study is really one of the most exciting projects I’ve had the real benefit and joy of working on. I started as an assistant professor so very early my career, I think the first day on the job being part of this project, and it’s continued for the past few decades in the study. We define generosity broadly, starting with giving to charitable organizations, and we look at all the different ways people can give, whether that’s to a local organization, to a healthcare organization, whether they’re supporting an environmental calls and international cause. All of that is generosity. But fortunately the study also tracks volunteer hours. And we look at what social scientists call informal giving or private transfers, so people can also give to help their neighbors. And for many, especially Americans from immigrant backgrounds. They’re very familiar with that model where, family members are helping aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and that may be financial assistance, but it can also involve helping at providing time, sharing what resources you have. And we have found that using this broader definition of generosity allows us to capture all the different ways that Humanity actually shares resources.

Petal Modeste: So how generous our American families, what percentage of us give? What is the average net worth of families who consistently give?

Dr. Una Osili: Excellent question. So when it comes to giving, there’s some really good answers here. When I joined the faculty, so at the beginning of the 20 twenty-first century we had a very stable picture of giving 2/3 of Americans gave and it was very consistent. That number is also quite unique because it cuts across race and ethnicity. We find that Americans are generous across the board. Lots of the other divides that we see in our society don’t actually show up in the data around generosity meaning people are generous. it’s not restricted to any one group of people but across the board. Around the time of the great recession, we started to see a decline in that top line number after so much stability. And today it’s about half of Americans that give which I think is still something to celebrate. Why? what we see is that more Americans give than almost any other civic activity we have. When we look across the country we still see such a high commitment to giving. Now people may vary in where they give their funds, what kinds of organizations they support. But this notion of giving is a shared attribute. And it’s core to many families and communities.

Petal Modeste: You know, giving sort of crosses all kinds of demographics. Religious beliefs, racial identities, family structure, etc. Are there any commonalities among all those different people? Who tends to give that 50%?

Dr. Una Osili: Yes. Those individuals tend to have more stable economic I’d say portraits. In other words, their income levels, education levels, wealth levels are more stable. In fact, as we move up the income ladder, we see a higher rates of giving. So one way to think about the data is that certainly people who have more stable lives are more likely to give and you give out of the resources you have so certainly households that have more disposable income are able to give more. Another group of characteristics that tend to be present in people who are givers are, we have high levels of social trust, so that includes interpersonal trust meaning. They trust other people, but they also have a higher trust in institutions.

Now, that is especially important, because we all have followed the data on trust in my work, have been able to track trust through the general social surveys published at the University of Chicago since the 1970s, and if you have been paying attention to that data, we have some of the lowest levels of trust that we’ve ever had here in the United. Of particular concern in that data is for younger Americans, we’re seeing very low levels of trust. And why is this a challenge? Because in the giving data, it does really stand out that among older Americans there are much higher rates of giving than younger Americans, and because the philanthropy panel study is a longitudinal study, we’re following the same households over time. We can see that millennials are giving less than their parents and their grandparents at the same point in their last life cycle they’re less likely to give and they’re also giving less. So for a lot of younger Americans their trust in institutions is lower.

Petal Modeste: Yeah, it would be interesting as you continue to track where the Gen. Z’s come out on that front, because I think that trust is even less among that generation in traditional institutions.

Dr. Una Osili: Yes

Petal Modeste: So, one mission of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is to increase the understanding of philanthropy and improve its practice worldwide through all the things you do, your critical inquiry, your research training, teaching, civic engagement. What are the world’s most generous countries and based on what you’re saying, I think the answer to this is “no”, but I was going to ask, are they simply the wealthiest based on GDP or some similar measure?

Dr. Una Osili: One of the things we really struggle with is this ranking of countries. What we actually found in the data is that when we measure what we call the sociocultural environment around giving, we find that that is the most commonly held trait. In other words. around the world there is a consistent commitment to giving. So whether we’re looking at the Gulf Coast countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Asia, there is a shared trait around generosity.

Now we also are able to look at the giving environments in different countries and that’s where we see quite a bit of difference. There are some countries that promote giving because the tax environment, the social structures, the vehicles are available. The political environment is conducive. And so, in our study the Netherlands ranks quite highly, and many of the Scandinavian countries, as you can imagine, do quite well. But it’s also interesting, because around the world we see quite a bit of innovation. One example I’ll just point out is that India passed a law that mandates companies to commit to a certain amount of their pre-tax profits to community causes and that has, I think, spurred a lot of investment by companies in what you could call corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, sustainability, even programs around gender equity.

Petal Modeste: So then the challenges that you might see to giving might be related to the environment. As you’re saying. So, what’s the tax scheme? What are the vehicles through which people can give? How easy is it for people to give? Are there facets of your work that help you help governments or communities meet some of the challenges they may face in their particular countries or in their environment, to giving.

Dr. Una Osili: Absolutely. I’ll give you some examples of work we’ve done around the world. several years ago that we were able to work with a group of scholars in Mexico to put together a project called Generosidad Mexico, which looked at all the different ways people were giving in Mexico. And in order to do that we had to work with government agencies as well as with scholars, and the idea was really to lift up laws and regulations at a regional and also country level that could help facilitate giving. And we’ve also been part of conversations across countries and regions to actually say, Well, what has worked in other countries? And how could we bring that here as part of our global philanthropy, environment index. We work with about a hundred experts around the world. And there’s a lot of learning across countries. The experts are actually learning from each other. They’re saying, what worked in your country, and how can we bring it to our own? So you were able to reduce this tax on giving, bring about more transparency in the sector, organize more collaboration? And how can we learn from that? Another piece that we’ve seen in the data is that cross border giving is quite challenging in many countries. I actually wrote about Kylian Mbappé, a soccer player who wanted to donate the winnings from the World Cup to one of the countries Cameroon that one of his parents is from, and found it to be quite difficult. So the study showcases how some countries are developing policies to make it easier both to give across borders and to receive those funds and how we, as a global society, can facilitate that. There are lots of lessons in the reports themselves, and I encourage your listeners, your viewers, to dig in, because there’s we have country reports. We have regional reports and global reports. So you can actually build this infrastructure around giving by learning from different countries.

Petal Modeste: That’s amazing. One of the many areas of expertise that you possess is African philanthropy, African American philanthropy and Black philanthropy. What drives philanthropic giving by people of African descent, and what are they most interested in impacting?

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, it’s a great question. When we look at people of African descent, what we have seen, especially looking both at African immigrants here in the United States, but also Africans on the Continent and the Caribbean and African Americans is that there are a lot of parallels in terms of success is defined, not just individual success, but community success. And when we, over the course of the last few years, we have published two reports called everyday donors of color and of those reports. We’ve also interviewed households from diverse backgrounds, and what we find is that their philanthropy is central to their identity for many individuals who faced hardship, discrimination, you could say dealt with obstacles in their success. Part of their mission is to go back and make sure that other people do not experience those same constraints. And, whether you look at Caribbean immigrants, African immigrants or African American households, it is not just people who are wealthy who have, quote unquote, achieved the highest levels of success that make a commitment to giving. Many start even before they’re successful to invest in others in their community. And the stories are so powerful. One of my colleagues here at the Louis Family School has written a book about Madam CJ Walker, one of our foremost entrepreneurs. And she had the philosophy of lifting as she climbed and invested in people even before she was a millionaire herself, and we see that same theme in so many of the families that we have studied. They made a commitment to giving. Even when they didn’t have very much, and as their resources grew they were able to make bigger and bigger commitments. And I think that’s what’s really inspiring and you don’t have to wait until you have millions or billions.

I’ll share one more story we recently hosted the mothers of professional basketball players on campus as part of the all-star basketball weekend in February and we had mothers and sons, professional athletes, and many of them shared very similar stories. They didn’t have much, but as they had more they gave more. And one particular player, Andre Iguodala, talked about not just giving money, but also giving back in terms of his time, going back to his high school to encourage future basketball players going back to his University’s college to speak to those young people and share pathways to success. I think a common thread in many stories of individuals of African descent is they understand that someone made it possible for them to stand where they are currently standing, and they also want to go back and pave the way for someone else, and each one determined to make a way for the next generation.

Petal Modeste: That’s just really interesting and not surprising. I’m also of course of African, descent and these ideals are very much part of my family, and the culture that I come from as well, which is in the Caribbean. And I imagine you see this with other racial groups, too. I remember we were speaking before. I think you were telling me about the Asian immigrants having a giving circle. I think that’s what it was called. Tell us a little bit about that.

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, one of the things we’ve seen in the past see, maybe decade is the growth of collective giving meaning people not just giving alone. But getting together with friends, with family members, with community members, sometimes as a professional group to give collectively. And this giving circle movement has really taken off. It’s something we also see in in many immigrant communities during the 2020. Of course, upheaval, social, economic, and also health crisis that we experience in the United States. We also know that in addition to all the shocks that our world experienced, we had a racial and social justice crisis and movements here in the United States, and it was, inspiring to see how people were not just complacent during that moment, but using their giving to help drive change. And one such example was a community in Minneapolis. they were an immigrant Asian immigrant, giving circle and they had traditionally given to scholarships for other Asian immigrant kids. But in the wake of the killing of George Floyd they decided that they were going to start supporting social justice leaders, black leaders in the community, many of them working on the frontlines of criminal justice, reform, social justice and mostly under-funded. And they saw how they’re giving could really make a difference. And so they had that moment where they decided to pivot and invest in those black leaders. So it was inspiring to see people, not just, of course, maybe doing what they had done before, but realizing that this was a moment where they’re giving could help move the needle on Social Change.

Petal Modeste: It’s extremely inspiring. And also what I love about collective giving is again, this idea that you don’t have to have much, It doesn’t even have to be money. You could be giving up your time, your energy, your expertise. Low barriers to entry. So tell me about technology now. I remember you had been cited in an article. I think it was CBS This morning 2019. It seems so far away now. The article was about crowdfunding, and sites like GoFundMe. And one of the things that you mentioned was that crowdfunding was very small, compared to more traditional fundraising campaigns. But you made sure to let us know that they had already started to change the way nonprofits raised money. So fast forward. We’re in 2024. How popular is crowdfunding today, and I imagine there are many other digital, tools, apps, etc., that have emerged to facilitate philanthropic giving. Can you tell us a little bit about that landscape?

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, I’m so glad you asked, because this is something we’ve been following for quite some time. So let me just put some numbers down on the table. So that everyone understands giving is about a half a trillion dollar industry. So our last data shows about 500 billion dollars donated in the United States. So this is, certainly one of the largest philanthropic sectors. It’s a vibrant sector. It’s changing its dynamic and for a long time we’ve tracked what share of all that giving takes place online and it’s growing at double digit rates. But it was under 10%. During the pandemic, there was an inflection point we saw giving grow. So today, it is now over 10% of all giving about 12% that is made via online methods. many of the large gifts, those 100 million and above gifts are not made online. So, we still have a dominance of non-digital methods. However, we look at the digital forms of giving. That’s where you see a lot of movement and change, and especially during the pandemic. But even before that. I started paying very close attention in 2017 with hurricane, Harvey. That was the year where we had back-to-back hurricanes in the United States, and I started to see large sums of money being raised on crowdfunding platforms, and that continued. There was a football player, J.J. Watt, who raised about 40 million dollars within a short space of time. Just a couple of months. It was a platform called “You Caring” that was purchased by GoFundMe. And during the pandemic we saw the CDC foundation also raise about 40 million dollars in a month on another platform called charity.com. So when we look at where Americans are giving today, it is across a number of channels. people are giving through apps. They’re giving through their mobile phones. They’re giving through websites, and they’re also giving through, cash registers when you check out at the grocery store. At the same time, we do know that what guides philanthropy is that individuals, drawn to opportunities where they can make a difference. They’re drawn to causes where they can see the impact of their giving. And what distinguishes crowdfunding is that you can connect in real time to an individual, a family, a community. So it is, not surprising that crowdfunding has really taken off because crowdfunding is not just a way of giving, but it’s also a storytelling platform where you can make a difference and build community at the same time.

Petal Modeste: So what about trust? We have seen instances where people are not honest. They’re not telling the true story. So this in terms of the platforms, and then in terms of more traditional nonprofits. From time to time we’ve seen where somebody has outed them as being dishonest, lacking in integrity, taking the donor dollars. And you know a tiny percentage is actually going towards the cause. How frequently do these kinds of issues arise, and has technology in any way help to reduce them?

Dr. Una Osili: So, let’s start with the fraud question, because that one is that fairly easy to answer when it comes to nonprofits. Although there are stories from time to time in the media, on social media, about outright fraud, in nonprofits, in the data we find much lower rates of fraudulent action within nonprofits. About 5%, you could say of the time and the reason for that is that the United States. Of course there is an oversight system around nonprofits many of them are covered by either Secretaries of State within the State system or at the Federal level, the IRS. And they’re third-party websites that also provide due diligence possibilities for donors. So, although fraud is certainly a concern, and I think we should all be vigilant in our giving transactions to do our homework and learn about the organizations and make sure that those organizations are trustworthy, transparent, and accountable, There are some advantages to giving to a traditional registered organization because there are ways of verifying the financial information. So I think that’s worth noting. However, when it comes to social media and giving via crowdfunding, you don’t necessarily have a website, some sort of oversight from the IRS. You have to actually do your own homework to verify that this is a reputable person, individual, organization that’s raising the funds, and that they are going to use the funds in the way that they said. So I do say to many individuals who ask should I give to a person on a crowdfunding platform versus an organization, it’s worth noting that there are tremendous advantages to giving to a registered organization, because you can actually track and verify. You don’t necessarily have that when you give to an individual.

In terms of the trust, the glue that holds philanthropy and the nonprofit sector together is trust.  And so when there are these fraudulent individuals, organizations that does have a dampening effect on giving a spillover effect. People don’t necessarily think oh, it was just that one organization that was fraudulent, but it casts a shadow. When we look at the trust data, Nonprofits are trusted more than any other institution in our country today. The government and certainly more than business. And so there is a both, a responsibility as well as an opportunity for nonprofit leaders to continue to build that trust and also to lead with integrity and with accountability.

Petal Modeste: I will also say that one of the things that I appreciate about nonprofits as well is how much impact you can have. So yes, you can do GoFundMe, or what have you? And donate some dollars to an individual or a family, for instance, but when you give to a nonprofit, you have this sense that your impact is bigger. So, I think, in terms of how regulated nonprofits are, at least in this country, that gives me a sense of comfort. But also I like the idea of how far the dollars can actually go, the kind of impact it can have.

Dr. Una Osili: yes, I would just add that it’s important to realize that if you want to have a long, lasting impact on a problem; If you want to address the roots of a problem, you can have this broader impact. With the crowd funding world, there is also this idea that you are building a community. And so there’s a lesson for nonprofits there as well, as they think about the giving experience, making sure that it’s easy for people because on GoFundMe certainly it’s quite easy to give to reduce the barriers and make it possible to for people to easily access those platforms, and at the same time that they’re building a community as they give. I tend to be very would I say expansive about this? Because in the data we find that people who are giving on crowdfunding are also giving to traditional nonprofits. So there isn’t necessarily this displacement effect .

Petal Modeste: Okay. That’s good to know. So you created a platform called Generosity for life as part of your work and the platform provides data tools, really for financial decision making in the areas of philanthropy or social impact. And so who uses this platform? And how does it help someone who wants to give become smarter?

Dr. Una Osili: So why did we even start this generosity for life platform? What we noticed is that there were so many websites that could teach you about giving but very few of them had data. If someone wanted to find out what fraction of people in my community are giving to this cause, it was very difficult. So what we did was we took all of the information we’ve been collecting through the Philanthropy Panel Study, and we made it accessible. You can download a report for your own community to see what people who are like you, or living in your neighborhood in your state, what kinds of causes they’re donating to. So you can get these geographically based generosity maps, we call them. But we also designed a cool tool if we do say so ourselves, called the “Giveometer”, that allows you to do some benchmarking. You put in some very basic demographic information, your income, your education, level, etc. And it tells you what other people like you are giving, and it tells you what percentile you are in your own peer group. And so this type of social information can spur people to increase their giving, adjust their giving, or just have more consciousness around their giving.  A reason why we went down this path is we got a call one day from an entrepreneur who was having a liquidity moment. He was selling his business, and he said, I’d like to find out what other people like me are giving. How much of my business proceeds should I be donating? Is there a tool that I could use for benchmarking purposes. And we said, We can create that for you. And so that’s how the “Giveometer” was born. Individuals of all different backgrounds can use this, educators, teachers K through 12, but also people who work with families, foundation workplace giving campaigns, can customize this information for their employees. The idea is just to make the data more accessible to everyday folks.

Petal Modeste: So you know, Una, on this, podcast. We really believe that parents are the architects of the future and that we all need to better understand the forces shaping the future so that we can raise the next generation to thrive and positively impact the world. And based on our conversation so far, even beginning all the way back with your own childhood, and how you were parented. It is so clear that, helping our children understand the importance of giving back is crucial to shaping up a better future. And you said it really well, when you were talking about African descent, who know that they are standing where they are standing because someone else helped somewhere down the line. It could be centuries back. And that’s true for all of us. Actually, someone is responsible for each of us being here. So I want to talk now as we start to wrap up about how we help our children cultivate a philanthropic spirit, a generous spirit. So, you have two children. How did you introduce them to philanthropy? And what strategies worked to get them really engaged in this idea of giving.

Dr. Una Osili: Wow! I think being a scholar in this field, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about how children learn about giving, and what parents can do to help shape their children’s giving practices. With several colleagues here at the school – Dr. Mark Wilhelm, also an economist and another colleague, Dr. Debra Mesch, we worked on a project for several years using the philanthropy panel study What led to children becoming more generous as adults, and the work was titled “Raising Charitable Children.” And we found one factor that could really help children become more charitable and that’s what we called the power of a charitable con conversation. So, in other words verbal socialization really matters. Talking to your kids about giving is far more effective than role modeling. Many parents think, Oh, my kids see me involved. They see me giving, and they’re going to follow suit. I don’t need to say anything. I don’t need to explain what I’m doing. They’re watching it. What they don’t realize is that role modeling on its own is not enough. In fact, the data show that charitable conversations are far more effective. Parents who talk to their kids about giving have a 20% higher rate of success.

This is important today, because a lot of the ways that parents give their kids may not ever see it. Most Religious congregations don’t pass the plate anymore. You have your mobile giving. So this has really encouraged my husband and I to be more intentional about the charitable conversations and in our household we’ve encouraged our kids. I think I shared this with you to, for special occasions, birthdays, holidays to actually forego presents, traditional presents.

I know this doesn’t sound very popular and that has become something we’ve done as a family, even as parents, we say, don’t give us gifts. One example, I’m on the Board of CARE International and their mission is around gender equity around the world.

Another practice that has been really central to how we’ve raised our children is volunteering together as a family. It’s something that certainly shaped me. I think I shared. My mother was very in some ways advanced, and that really exposing us to opportunities to volunteer to give the talents that we had as kids, and one of those was, we had a dance troop growing up, and so we would go to the senior citizens home to perform. That was the talent, and we used it. So we’ve taken our kids alongside all of our volunteering efforts so that they get that opportunity to serve, and we’ve seen that as they have grown, they also built this into their life. So our daughter is in high school and on her, Without any parental input she signed up to start tutoring at one of the homeless shelters; tutoring kids after school, and it was her own decision to do this. But once again it was because we, as a family had worked in many of these areas, and so she was exposed to the needs in our community.

So I encourage parents, certainly have those conversations, but where you can volunteer as a family, and that gives you that opportunity to have very organic conversations about, why is this important? Where are the needs. Where are the gaps? How can we make a difference? I encourage parents to also be open to learning from their kids. Children that will say, let’s volunteer with this organization. And those parents that have teenagers may say, Oh, the kids, I want to talk to my kids. But they’re not interested in talking, volunteering together can actually help you. Have those very effective conversations.

Petal Modeste: And it would seem to me, too, that a good hook, especially if your kids are teenagers, because I have one, is also things that interest them right? If they’re interested in the environment or animals, maybe you suggest that we volunteer around that interest. Just to get them to talk back to you. It might really be helpful. So talking is very important, thinking about ways to give back in your everyday life, whether it’s foregoing gifts, and so on, and definitely volunteering together.

What advice do you have for families who are who are interested in giving but they have not historically engaged in giving. And they think like we talked about earlier. You know, they have this idea that philanthropy means you have to be wealthy and you have to give a lot of money. How should they start? Where do they start? They have this interest, but they they’re not sure that that they are the type to give because they’ve not historically done it.

Dr. Una Osili: I say start where you are and then be intentional about it. The good news is, we used to talk about the 3 Ts time, talent, and treasure. Today. There are more Ts. There is, Testimony – use, your voice. It may be that you volunteer in a neighborhood. Maybe it’s an animal shelter post about it on social media. Get your friends involved. Then there’s also the ties. The networks build networks around the causes. Maybe you start at your workplace. It maybe bring together a group of folks at work that can go and volunteer together. start to create a plan around your giving I talk about in my old work. The idea of all in giving you.

Using your Talents, your resources, your platform, to really lift up the causes that matter to you. It may be climate, it might be gender equity, it may be social justice, but start to think about, how can you align your values with your giving. With so much uncertainty in the world today, we found that people who give are actually the ones that have. First of all, higher life satisfaction. So this idea of joy, of giving sometimes think that by giving we’re helping someone else. Yes, that’s definitely true. But we also see that there is this positive feedback loop, this joy of giving people who give have higher levels of life satisfaction. And I have several colleagues here at the school that actually see health benefits of giving, volunteering. So start somewhere. You don’t have to see the entire plan but be intentional about making a commitment to a cause that you care about. And for some people we have this tool at the school called the Philanthropic Autobiography, where you through your life and see what are the things that really matter to me. How can you use some of your time, your resources your energy to help move that cause forward. What we find is not only, of course, you will get so much benefit from investing in that cause, but you will also have a higher sense of satisfaction and purpose, and when you do it as a family, and that’s something that is also very powerful. Whether it’s you and your spouse together, or partner as maybe it’s your sibling group, or with your parents, or with your young or even adult children. We’ve found that many families, especially when they’re geographically dispersed. Giving can actually be a way of fostering that connection. And as your family grows and kids are older, this will be part of their tradition.

Petal Modeste: Yeah, that’s great, because I also had a question which you just answered, about families where they may be generational differences in attitudes towards giving. But I think you really give us some good ideas for bringing everybody under that philanthropic tent, so to speak, and I guess some of the things that we do with our children could also work with great grandparents or grandparents who may not have had a tradition of giving.

But now you can say, what do you care about? I love this philanthropic biography because it means all of us have something we care about and if we take the time to examine that then we could find a cause around it. I love that!

So, my very last question for you, Una. We are grappling with so many challenges in the world. We all know what they are. There are wars and famine and climate change, the erosion of human rights and the reversal of civil rights. There are so many problems that we grapple with every day, and we’ve been looking ahead for our children who have to live in the world, and we’re like, Oh, my God!

Is philanthropy more important than ever? In other words, how might philanthropy be an answer to some of the grave problems that we are facing?

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, I think we you summarize it very well. We are living with so many crises, multiple crises and what we found in the literature and the evidence is quite clear that in times of crisis there is also, an opportunity, and we also have seen that crisis shocks, here can be this pro-social behavior that then gets built. And so at this moment we hear a lot about the crises. But what we don’t hear a lot about. are the opportunities we have- whether it’s in climate, whether it’s in food, insecurity, the opportunities to make a difference. And today, more than ever, there are individuals, organizations, communities that are working on solutions to these issues and we have an opportunity to get involved, whether that’s donating money, donating your time or just bringing awareness to those causes. And I think working in philanthropy. Every single day I get to hear about those solutions. There is a lot of innovation in the philanthropic sector, a lot of resilience. We have individuals who are donating small amounts, but some who are donating millions, or even billions to help make a difference. The other thing that gives me hope is that, in all the other moments of crisis in our history we’ve had individuals who have really played a role in driving change. I think a lot about the 1960s and the Civil rights movement where it was everyday folks that helped drive change individuals like you and me, who supported the civil rights leaders and movements. And there were wealthy donors that poured into these movements and helped, of course, listened to what those leaders wanted, and coalitions came together. So I think in this time of great turbulence, there’s also a lot of hope, a lot of opportunity. And each of us this is what’s great about philanthropy. We have an opportunity to make a difference now and we’re seeing the actions of individuals of all different backgrounds, of course, collectively, really making a difference and with the data on how much is being given today, I think that’s very encouraging.

Petal Modeste: What a wonderful note to end on. And I’m not going to forget the 5 T’s – time, talent, testimony treasure, and ties.

Dr. Una Osili: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Petal Modeste: It just makes me feel hopeful as well, that we all can do something, we all can make a difference. Thank you so much, Una, for joining us. Thank you for sharing your work and inspiring us to be more generous to give more, and to teach our children to do the same, so that together we can create a better future.

Dr. Una Osili: Thank you for having me and all the best with the rest of the show.

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