Would you like to buy a typewriter?

Do you remember the typewriter? I do. I taught myself how to touch-type in high school, typed papers in college and used one in my first job. Underwood, Brother, Olivetti, and IBM Selectric brands are burned in my memory. My kids have likely never seen one.

I haven’t seen a typewriter in a long time – unless it is in a curio store or in a pile of stuff to be given away. Word processing technology quickly replaced our need for the typewriter. Word processing allows us to make quick corrections, change formats, fonts, colors, and styles in seconds. It even checks our spelling and grammar. Word processing allows us to print unlimited copies of our creations and send electronic versions of our work via email and to post on our websites. (By the way, I am using the MS Word processing tool to create this document.)

I bring this up because in a way it’s analogous to the current dustup in the philanthropic press over comparisons between Giving USA and the Atlas of Giving.

Giving USA has provided a great service for our nonprofit sector for more than four decades. It created and maintained an annual estimation of charitable giving in the US by sector and source once each year. It was our ‘go to’ source for looking back on the previous calendar year. It was and continues to be interesting, but has no real utility for a working fundraiser. During my 30 years as a fundraising practitioner, this really bothered me. I wanted something that I could confidently use on a timely basis to measure our results against.

In my last nonprofit role, our fiscal year ended August 31. Giving USA for the calendar year would not even be released until late June of the next year. As a timely, useful benchmark for me, it was of no help. By the time it was released, my budget for the year had already been set, my staff and program evaluations completed, and my assessment had been in the books for more than eight months.

Our goal in creating the Atlas of Giving was to provide a utilitarian tool that could provide a high fidelity benchmark on a timely basis (at least monthly) that would allow practitioners to compare their own results and make adjustments as needed. An additional goal was to create a reliable forecast for the months ahead. We have done that. This new tool is available now for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of fundraising and nonprofit management. We provide the only monthly giving benchmark by nine sectors, four sources, and 50 states AND the only forecast for each of the next twelve months for those nine sectors, four sources, and 50 states. Hopefully, one day we can make the benchmark and forecast weekly or even daily.

Here’s the thing…the Atlas of Giving has determined that giving correlates to specific economic and demographic factors and we measure the relative strengths of those correlations to each sector, source, state, and the nation. This enables us to measure the velocity and trajectory of giving and not just report on what happened in the previous year. You can now confidently benchmark your results in real time and make budget and planning decisions based on real data.

From a data perspective, the Atlas of Giving does for fundraising what the word processor has done for documents.

We’ve got our finger on the pulse of American philanthropy.