Donation may influence the culture of giving

March 04, 2007 -- Steve Young B.J. Motley grew up in a home where giving was a given, no matter how much or how little his family had.

"My mom always said if she had one last quarter or one last dime, and she'd seen somebody who needed it, she'd give it to them," the 42-year-old John Morrell & Co. employee says. "That's what she taught me. That's how I feel, too."

So even now, with a $400 million gorilla dominating Sioux Falls' philanthropic landscape - a donation from T. Denny Sanford intended to transform the former Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System - Motley doesn't intend to change any of his giving ways.

Few observers expect others to cut back on their charitable donations because of Sanford's largess, either. Just the opposite, they say it could inspire even more sharing of the community's wealth.

"A lot of people don't realize why people give," said Motley, who contributes about $600 annually to United Way. "It's not whether you give a little or you give a lot. It's the good feeling you get by doing it."

But will that mentality carry through the Sioux Empire in the aftermath of Sanford's beneficence? Sioux Falls is about to find out.

Some might consider small gifts insignificant
From his perspective as an economics professor at Dakota State University in Madison, Dan Talley said he could envision two things happening. One, Sanford's gift could set an example that others wish to follow.

"As people see it being well- received and well-publicized, it might serve as an incentive to them to give more," he said.

Or it could do the opposite, Talley said, causing people to question whether their $100 donation is all that significant compared to $400 million.

"I expect for the more moderate donors that many organizations rely on for a fair amount of their funding. ... you might find (Sanford's gift) might discourage some of those people from giving since it seems most recognition goes to the big gifts," he said.

It also might discourage those who view charitable giving more as an obligation than an act of giving back, said Tom Batcheller, the retired president of Zip Feeds.

"Those folks who give because they feel obligated, if they can find an excuse not to give in the first place, they will," said Batcheller, whose family has donated to a variety of causes, including the YMCA and Sioux Valley Hospital.

"Now they can say: 'Sioux Valley has got all the money it needs. Why should I support an organization like that?' "

Giving to United Way second per-capita in U.S.

Still, Talley and Batcheller see an upside to Sanford's gift as well, one more in tune with a philanthropic culture in this region that inspires even more giving.

Officials with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation have said the city alone has perhaps 600 nonprofit organizations that draw at least $100 million a year in gifts.

And the $8.35 million raised in the last United Way campaign is four times the national average for a community with 150,000 people, said Jay Powell, president of the Sioux Empire United Way.

"In Sioux Falls, we view ourselves as givers," Powell said. "We want to be part of a culture of community that includes philanthropy."

He cites a series of numbers to confirm that. Per capita giving to United Way in Sioux Falls is more than $58 per person. That ranks second in the nation only to Palm Beach, Fla., a small island community of 13,000 that ponies up $390 a year per capita, Powell said.

He also noted that more than 5,000 individuals gave $500 or more to the Sioux Empire United Way in the last campaign and were listed in its annual report of donors. So were 28 individuals who gave $10,000 or more.

"At least 99 percent of those who give don't mind being listed" in the report, Powell said. "What we think happens is, that listing inspires other people to give. They look at the book and see that, 'Geez, 5,000 people in town are giving at this level. If that many believe in this organization, it must be a good organization.' "

Shelters see benefit of residents' generosity
When First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard gave $100,000 to The Banquet last July to provide for a children's room at its new site at 900 E. Eighth St., the publicity surrounding that gift didn't hurt their fundraising efforts, director Carolyn Downs said.

In fact, a woman who read about the donation in the Argus Leader decided to donate $100,000 for The Banquet's welcoming area, Downs said.

"Margaret Reardon gave it in the name of her husband, B. Scott Reardon," Downs said. "She was inspired by the other gift and said, 'I know I'd like to do something like this.' "

To the extent that Sanford's gift is paying for specific health care-related initiatives, other directors of local nonprofits say they don't think his generosity will hamper their own fundraising efforts.

At the Union Gospel Mission, for example, superintendent Fran Stenberg needs about $900,000 a year in donations to run his homeless shelter. Since Sanford has given so much to Sioux Valley, others may be inspired to look to agencies like his to help now, Stenberg said.

"This could swing the pendulum in other directions," he said. "My first thought on it was, maybe people will say, 'We can help someone else who has the ability to help others.' This could have a very positive effect for us."

Or it might simply inspire others to give, said Angela Hyde, director of Community Outreach, an agency started 25 years ago by a group of downtown churches to help the needy with a rent payment, fixing a car or other needs.

Her group relies on charitable donations, United Way and churches, Hyde said. And it falls far short of meeting the needs of its clients. Perhaps the Sanford gift will help to change that, she said.

"If anything, it might be something that fosters the idea that giving is good, or is something you should do," Hyde said. "People may see that it's a pretty cool thing to do, and that could end up helping organizations like us."

Moving into 'golden age of philanthropy' in U.S.

This is a good time to tap into that altruism, said Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. America is moving into what he calls "the golden age of philanthropy" after experiencing the most serious downturn in wealth - between 1999 and 2002 - since the Great Depression.

"Every national number we hear about in the next six months indicates that there is going to be a startling high figure of growth, and that includes in charitable giving," Schervish said.

According to "Giving USA 2006: the Annual Report on Philanthropy," published by the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy of Indianapolis, giving to charities in 2005:

Increased 2.7 percent from 2004 when adjusted for inflation, to $260.3 billion;

The majority of that giving came from individuals, $199.1 billion;

Giving by bequest was $17.4 billion; foundations gave $30 billion; and corporations donated $13.7 billion.

To capitalize on that generosity, Schervish said it will be interesting to see how Sioux Falls markets the effect of charitable giving by donors. Part of that strategy should be to show smaller donors how their gifts can be combined with others to have significant effects, Schervish said.

In that vein, it's important to show not how contributions help organizations to do their work, but how organizations are tools for donors to do good work, he said.

"Charities are learning what I call the 'new physics of philanthropy,' " he said. "What they want to do is meet the needs of small donors for happiness, just as charities try to meet the needs of major donors for happiness.

City could strive to show value of small donations
At Sanford Health Foundation, previously Sioux Valley Foundation, that job will fall to Brian Mortenson. He works with 10,000 active donors a year and 46,000 gift transactions, averaging almost $200 per gift in 2006.

About 26,000 of those gifts came through payroll deductions from 1,000 employees. The rest are gifts coming into the Children's Miracle Network, or into such programs at Sanford as hospice, kidney dialysis or neonatal care.

Mortenson suggests donors to his organization understand that Sanford's gift goes to specific initiatives and doesn't cover all the other programs at Sanford Health that are enhanced by contributions.

"If Mr. Sanford gave that gift to us for our reserve funds for whatever was needed until it was depleted, I wouldn't give money to the organization," Mortenson said. "But his gift has a specific function. And the gifts of our donors have specific functions not covered by Sanford's gift."

Mortenson also said nonprofits in Sioux Falls understand the need to appreciate their donors.

"Nonprofits in this region do a very good job of expressing gratitude and affirmation to people who reach into their resources and give gifts, whether it's $25 or $400 million," he said. "The culture in South Dakota is to say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant, for showing support to whatever mission they do.' "

Batcheller, the former president of Zip Feeds, confirms that. And like Motley, he does not intend to allow a $400 million gift to stop him from donating further to any of his favorite charities.

That includes Sanford Health.

"Actually, I've been in contact with Brian (Mortenson) and am looking at the possibility of a gifting opportunity" to Sanford Health, Batcheller, 61, said. "I was thinking about it, and Sanford's gift inspired me to move forward."

As with Motley, giving is a given for Batcheller, whether there's a $400 million gorilla on the philanthropic landscape or not.

Now Sioux Falls is about to find out how the rest of the community feels.

 Return to previous page