Most Donors Believe Money Was Used Unwisely

September 1, 2002       Jeff Jones      

Despite screaming headlines in newspapers decrying the speed and method at which nonprofits paid out September 11 charitable donations, more than two-thirds of the people who gave, believe charities used the money appropriately. And, almost half the people polled said that they gave to September 11 causes, according to a new national survey.

In a NonProfit Times/Ruotolo Associates national survey taken during late June, those polled were asked if they had made a personal, financial gift as a result of a September 11 appeal. Those who responded affirmatively were then asked if they believe it was used properly.

Some 47 percent said they gave money as a result of a September 11 appeal, and of those, 68 percent believe it was used properly.

Opinion Research Corporation conducted the national telephone survey. Some 1,044 adults, 532 women and 512 men, participated. Percentages are calculated on a sample of 1,000, weighted for population and have an error margin of plus or minus 2 percent.

Overall, the survey shows the September 11 attacks and resulting goodwill attracted younger donors, and reached demographic segments in an equal way, said George Ruotolo, chairman and chief executive officer of Cresskill, N.J.-based Ruotolo Associates.

Of those polled:

  • 53 percent in the 35 to 44 age group gave, the largest percentage by age;
  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of people ages 25 to 34 believe charities properly used their money, the highest percentage of any age group;
  • 17 percent of those who gave in response to September 11 said they do not believe donations were spent properly;
  • 52 percent said they didn’t give as a result of a September 11 appeal;
  • Giving from the northeast outpaced western giving 52 percent to 36 percent.

One of the most unusual aspects of the poll results is that giving was from coast to coast and across almost every demographic group. “There weren’t huge swings in the way money was given,” Ruotolo said. “This was clearly an event that impacted the entire country, and the response was nationwide.”

“What’s abnormal is that there aren’t huge swings,” said Robert DeMartinis, vice president at Ruotolo Associates. “Obviously, it was an event that impacted everybody. That, I think, is abnormal because that is not something that we normally would see.”

Ruotolo believes a significant aspect of the gift outpouring after the brutal terrorist attacks is that younger donors, between ages of 25 and 34, gave because the attacks directly impacted their generation. “They became more engaged with this event because so many people their age were affected by it,” Ruotolo said.

The survey shows some 46 percent of people ages 25 to 34 gave to September 11 causes. That percentage compares with 53 percent in the 35 to 44 age group and just 32 percent in 18 to 24 age group.

This reveals an upward bounce in giving by those in the 25 to 34 age group, compared to the 18 to 24 age group. Such giving breaks normal patterns. Generally, people in their 20s and 30s aren’t as philanthropic as older donors, Ruotolo said. DeMartinis pointed out that younger people usually volunteer.

Long-term effects of such giving abundance suggests that more people got into philanthropy at a younger age and may continue to give, when applied to those aged 25 to 34, Ruotolo said.

“As a result of 9/11 we were able to bring new donors. What we have to be vigilant about is making sure that these young individuals are communicated with to assure them that their money is being used appropriately,” said Ruotolo. “It’s necessary to constantly be thinking about not from where your next gift is coming, but what you are doing about the people who made the last gift,” Ruotolo said.

Three-quarters (76 percent) of people ages 25 to 34 believe charities properly or appropriately used their money to support September 11 victims. That means younger donors had a good giving experience, which opens doors to future gifts, Ruotolo officials said.

“The first gift is the hardest gift,” DeMartinis said.

Americans experienced a great deal of frustration with the attacks, and turned to donations as a way to cope, Ruotolo said. Generation Xers felt more frustration than others and giving was one way to deal with it, he said.

A majority of survey participants, some 68 percent, believe charities used their money appropriately.

“This is a very positive statement,” Ruotolo said. “After all the publicity that we’ve heard, 68 percent still felt” it was a good donating experience. But, 15 out of every 100 people said they don’t know if their money was used appropriately.

The numbers provide a positive sign when compared with a series of Independent Sector (IS) surveys that showed people were less likely to believe charities were “honest and ethical in their use of donated funds.”

Percentages fell from 71 percent in 1990 to 64 percent in July 2002, according to IS.

Following the events of September 11 there was a significant jump in support for charities with 73 percent reporting that charities are honest and ethical, according to IS’s Keeping The Trust report. It didn’t last. That percentage, garnered from a February, 2002 survey, has since returned to pre-September 11 levels, according to the IS report.

The NonProfit Times/Ruotolo Associates survey suggests women were more convinced that charities spent their contributions well, Ruotolo said.

Some 75 percent of women believed their money properly supported September 11 victims. Approximately two-thirds of men (60 percent) held a similar belief, according to the survey.

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