Atlas of Giving Faceoff with Giving USA

Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio hosted a ‘Faceoff’ with the Atlas of Giving and Giving USA on Friday 2.21.14. I represented the Atlas and faced Gregg Carlson and Una Osili from Giving USA.

I had a great time talking about the Atlas but must admit being uncomfortable directing critical questions at Giving USA – I do wish them well.

Our goal for the Atlas is to provide timely information on U.S. giving and a reliable giving forecast for working fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, board members, the press and the public. We remain convinced that the Atlas enables a radical new level of fundraising success and nonprofit budgeting efficiency. This was something that I always wanted during my 30 years as a fundraising practitioner, but it was never available.

My takeaways from the discussion:

Giving USA seemed committed to trying to discredit what the Atlas of Giving does based on two things…Accuracy and Transparency.


I wish now that I had insisted that Giving USA can make no better claim of accuracy than the Atlas of Giving can. An estimate by its very nature cannot be ‘accurate’. There will never be a real-time database of charitable giving information that contains all donations from all 1.2 million nonprofits and churches – that would be the only truly accurate measurement. Therefore, I will boldly announce that the Atlas of Giving is the most accurate estimate of US charitable giving. If you disagree…prove it.

Giving USA seems convinced that their estimate is somehow accurate because some academics agree that it is. Seems like an “emperor’s new clothes” scenario…if all your friends and subjects say that you are correct, then you must be correct.

During the discussion, Tony Martignetti asked Giving USA an important question. What is Giving USA’s source of information on church giving (this, the largest sector, accounts for more than 34% of all U.S. giving)? Giving USA has been very outspoken about the fact that they no longer use surveys but instead rely on IRS 990 information from nonprofits. Tony pointed out that churches don’t file 990s; so how does Giving USA get its information? The answer (after lots of dancing) was essentially – surveys from church groups. Accuracy? Me thinks thou doth protest too much.
On the Transparency issue…

What is the big deal? Really?

The assumption seems to be that if a business created it (or academics did not), it can’t be good, correct, useful, etc. News flash: Private business brought us electric light, the telephone, life-saving prescription drugs, the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, and google. I’m pretty sure that google hasn’t been ‘peer reviewed’ but it works mighty fine – and they are not making their process ‘transparent’.

We are not allergic to having an independent and unbiased academic review of the Atlas of Giving. But, we will do so only under circumstances that will fully protect our intellectual property.

In the end, it boils down to these key differences:

Timely US giving information is only available through the Atlas of Giving.

There is only one source of giving by geography. It is the Atlas of Giving.

There is only one reliable forecast of charitable giving. It is the Atlas of Giving.

The Atlas of Giving creates a radical new opportunity for raising more money by scheduling fund raising activities at times that will be more productive.

For the first time, real data exists to enable nonprofits to set and adjust their budgets so that they can operate more efficiently. It is available through the Atlas of Giving forecast that is updated every month.

If you want an econometric ‘forecast’ of what giving was LAST year – that is available from Giving USA…in June of the following year.

Here is a link to the audio from the Faceoff. Grab a fresh cup of coffee, hit play and decide for yourself.