Erased: Ending faculty sexual misconduct in academia

An open letter from women of public affairs education[1]

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The #MeToo movement is descending upon the walls of the ivory tower. The day of reckoning has come for academia to end teaching staff[2] sexual misconduct. As women educators in public administration[3] and third sector studies[4], we demand to be heard.

The issue of teaching staff perpetrating sexual misconduct is prevalent within academia, and more specifically, in graduate education programmes. In the United States (U.S.), 24.2% of women and 15.6% of men report being sexually victimized as undergraduates on a college campus in just the last two months (Jouriles et al., 2020); and, one out of every ten female graduate students report being sexually harassed by a member of the teaching staff (Cantor et al., 2020). This problem is not just isolated to the U.S. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s (2017) National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian universities found relatively similar numbers with 21% of students reporting being sexually harassed in a university setting, with about 7% being victimized by teaching staff (p. 48).

Public and third sector education programmes are not immune. According to the grassroots, U.S.-based Academic Sexual Misconduct Database, public and third sector education programmes had 20 publicly documented, substantiated cases of teaching staff sexual misconduct since 2016 (Libarkin, 2020). While that’s only about 2% of all cases across all disciplines, that number is shocking given our field differentiates itself on the qualities of “publicness” (Bozeman, 1987) and our programmes are relatively smaller and newer than most.

Many associations and societies focused on promoting the practice and study of public and third sectors, for example the International City/County Manager Association and the Social Research Association, have ethical codes with explicit statements that require the highest personal and professional integrity. Yet, our education programmes are plagued by the same pass-the-harasser mentality as other disciplines. For example, in early 2020, a university investigation substantiated findings of sexual misconduct by a previous editor of a top ranked public affairs journal. As often happens (Cantalupo & Kidder, 2018), the professor filed for early retirement before sanctions were applied. They subsequently applied for multiple other positions in academia and were even initially hired at another top university. Like most cases of teaching staff sexual misconduct, that case received no press, was not publicly documented, and thus (to-date) is not listed in the Academic Sexual Misconduct Database (Libarkin, 2020). Yes, this is only one example, but there are others. Just ask your female colleagues.

Programmes designed to educate future public and third sector employees need to be even more concerned than most higher education programmes about erasing teaching staff sexual misconduct. In many countries these sectors tend to have higher than average female representation (Andrews & Ashworth, 2013), which equates to more female students studying public and third sector management. For example, in the U.S., sixty-three percent of the students in graduate public affairs programmes are female, more than almost any other educational field (NASPAA, 2019). Graduate students face a high “administrative burden” (Moynihan, et al., 2015) in that they are learners seeking access to an institution rife with cumbersome rules and practices while at the same time entering into unbalanced power dynamic relationships with advising professors (Young & Wiley, 2021). In many cases, they must bear these costs in order to achieve their goal to graduate. Given that sexual assaults often go unreported (Jouriles et al., 2020), students shouldering such administrative burden are even less likely to report sexual misconduct by teaching staff.

Further, the relative smallness and newness of public and third sector graduate education programmes may make teaching staff sexual misconduct more prolific. The newness of the fields translates to fewer big-name scholars (as compared to hard science fields). The smallness of the fields means the titans are more recognisable. These factors combined may make a student fear retaliation even more, and negatively influence the likelihood they report misconduct.

Lastly, in many countries victims have few legal protections and means of recourse. For example, in the United Kingdom more than a third of universities used nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) or threats of expulsion as a means to gag students from going public (Croxford, 2020). In the U.S., recent policy changes to Title IX weakened protections for victims, which may unequally impact victims of sexual misconduct by teaching staff (Anderson, 2020). In India, universities have Internal Complaint Committees, which have the right to try to force conciliation between the victim and their attacker prior to an investigation even occurring (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2013, Act §1(1)(1)). If an investigation occurs there are very few requirements on what it must include (Sakhrani, 2017). The committee must provide recommendations to the university and complainants, but the university does not have to notify the victim about what, if any, outcomes were had. Finally, if the victim was unable to prove their complaint and the committee comes up with an adverse finding against them, they can be penalised and punished (Sakhrani, 2017). Other universities across the world fail to have any real policy protections in place, leaving female students incredibly vulnerable to enduring sexual misconduct (Gray & Pin, 2017).

How do we stop a cycle of sexual misconduct in public affairs education programmes?

As a field, we have acquiesced into complicity and complacency about misconduct instead of living by our tenets of accountability and transparency. How can we forge a new path? As policy scholars, we come back to policy solutions within the framework of the socioecological model.

  • Individual level solutions: Build upon mentoring relationships as a protective factor. A relationship with a senior teaching staff member may help improve the chances that a student will disclose. Another strategy is to teach and practice effective bystander intervention approaches.
  • Programme or department level solutions: Develop department culture and policies that actively prohibit and punish sexual misconduct. Programmes can also develop meaningful check points and easy-access, anonymous disclosure methods to help identify issues. Then make sure everyone, especially the students, knows about them.
  • University level[5]solutions: Strengthen university policies to improve reporting and sanctioning. Background check incoming teaching staff specifically for sexual misconduct. Mandate reference requests disclose sexual misconduct findings for previous teaching staff.[6] Close loopholes that allow teaching staff facing sanctions to retire early. Commit to stronger sanction practices; terminate when called for and due process has been completed. Universities must ensure teaching staff uphold their ethical responsibilities, instead of simply letting them walk away.
  • Association level solutions: Take a no tolerance stance. All professional associations need a code of ethics; one that clearly states that sexual misconduct will result in both membership termination and cessation of all publication, conference, and award privileges. Accrediting associations should require schools to report findings of misconduct. Associations also need to be proactive about safeguarding graduate students by protecting them at events where they are most vulnerable.
  • Government policy solutions: Develop policies and procedures that break the cycle of misconduct.  The European Union is currently being petitioned to create the European Office and Ombudsmen for Academic and Research Matters to “supervise, provide information to victims of harassment through the provision of resources, raise awareness of harassment and the ways it can be tackled, and provide training for institutions about good practices”. We strongly support this petition and urge other countries to do the same. Other legislation should also be considered, such as the U.S.’s State of New Jersey Statute § 18A:6-18, which creates easier avenues to terminate teaching staff for egregious moral violations. Policy should be enacted prohibiting the use of NDAs that take away the victim’s future right to name their attacker. Other policies can be put in place to provide protection for victims, mandate sanctions, and develop national databases of teaching staff reports that have substantiated findings[7] that HR can use for background checks.
  • Societal level solutions: Change the culture. Sexual misconduct is rooted in all facets of academia. Most resources are dedicated towards eradicating sexual assaults committed by students. We must take responsibility for the role teaching staff play in this epidemic and collectively normalise the conversation about university sexual misconduct.

Sexism is systemically embedded in academia. Public and third sector education programmes must work together to break down the complicity and complacency that have pervaded the discipline since its inception. For too long, we relied upon an underground whisper network of individuals who work behind the scenes to protect our students (Ahmad, 2020). These women deserve credit and respect for carrying our collective burden. Now we demand real solutions. We demand institutional collective action across all levels to eliminate the dangers of these sexual predators.

[1] This editorial is a shortened adaptation of the full article by Drs. Sarah Young & Kimberly Wiley, which provides a much more in-depth conversation regarding an overview of the problem and the recommended solutions. Please see the forthcoming Journal of Public Affairs Education volume 27 doi:10.1080/15236803.2021.1877983 for more.

[2] We use the term “teaching staff” as it is the most universally generalisable. We use the term to refer to all professors, lecturers, tutors, and all others that teach within higher education.

[3] While the boundaries of what is “public” varies by on country, we use the term to refer to government and publicly controlled organisations.

[4] The nonprofit, or voluntary sector, is referred to by several terms throughout the world. For the purpose of consistency and neutrality, and aligned with the International Society for Third-Sector Research, we refer to this as the “third sector”.

[5] We recognise that for some universities these recommendations may involve a government-level policy change. We include the recommendation within this section as the administrative body responsible varies widely, but it applies most closely to the university-level.

[6] In some legal systems such as the U.S.’s, qualified privileges legally protect negative references provided in good faith.

[7] Finalised reports should be redacted to protect the victim and the complainant, but still readily identify the perpetrator.

Acknowledgements

We greatly appreciate the significant contributions of trailblazer Dr. Frances S. Berry in supporting and amplifying this message

References

Ahmad, A. (2020, September 9). How to detect and dodge a predatory professor. Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-detect-and-dodge-a-predatory-professor.

Anderson, G. (2020. May 7). Education Department releases final Title IX regulations. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/07/education-department-releases-final-title-ix-regulations

Andrews, R., & Ashworth, R. (2013). Determinants of representation: an empirical assessment of the UK civil service. Policy and Politics, 41(3), 429-448. http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/030557312X645829

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2017). Change the course: National report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities. Retrieved from: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/change-course-national-report-sexual-assault-and-sexual?fbclid=IwAR0JNZEfNXtTnrdKJcV-t5Ci-Fx2G-5Fco1HgpH1RT53t_XkXlYJH2BXnAM

Bozeman, B. (1987). All Organizations are Public: Bridging Public and Private Organizational Theories. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Cantalupo, N. C., & Kidder, W. C. (2018). A systematic look at a serial problem: Sexual harassment of students by university faculty. Utah Law Review, 2018(3), 671–786.

Cantor, D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Townsend R., Lee, H., Bruce, C., & Thomas, G., (2020). Report on the AAU campus climate survey on sexual assault and misconduct. Westat. Report prepared for The Association of American Universities. https://www.aau.edu/sites/default/files/AAU-Files/Key-Issues/Campus-Safety/Revised%20Aggregate%20report%20%20and%20appendices%201-7_(01-16-2020_FINAL).pdf

Croxford, R. (2020, February 12). Sexual assault claims ‘gagged’ by UK universities. BBC News. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-51447615

Gray, M. & Pin, L. (2017). “I would like it if some of our tuition went to providing pepper spray for students”: University branding, securitization, and campus sexual assault at a Canadian university. The Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research. 6(1), p. 86-110.

Jouriles, E.N., Nguyen, J., Krauss, A., Stokes, S.L., & McDonald, R. (2020). Prevalence of sexual victimization among female and male college students: A methodological note with data. Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520978198

Libarkin, J. (2020). Academic Sexual Misconduct Database. Retrieved August 15. 2020. From https://academic-sexual-misconduct-database.org

Moynihan, D., Herd, P., & Harvey, H. (2015). Administrative burden: Learning, psychological, and compliance costs in citizen-state interactions. Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory, 25(1), 43–69. https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/muu009

NASPAA. (2019). 2019 NASPAA Annual Data Report. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://www.flipsnack.com/naspaa/2019-naspaa-annual-data-report.html

Sakhrani, M. (2017). Sexual harassment: The conundrum of law, due process, and justice. EPW Engage. Retrieved from: https://www.epw.in/engage/article/sexual-harassment-conundrum-law-due-process-and-justice

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (Act No. 14/2013)(India), https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Sexual-Harassment-at-Workplace-Act.pdf

Young, S. & Wiley, K. (Forthcoming). Erased: Why faculty sexual misconduct is prevalent and how we could prevent it. Journal of Public Administration Education, 0(0), 0-00. https://doi.org/10.1080/15236803.2021.1877983


Request for Applications: Editor-in-Chief for Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly

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This is a request for applications for the position of Editor(s)-in-Chief of the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ). Editing NVSQ is an exciting opportunity to help shape the growing field of nonprofit research through leadership of a top-ranked journal. NVSQ is the flagship journal of the interdisciplinary field of research on nonprofit organizations, civil society, voluntarism, and philanthropy, now in its 50th year of publication. NVSQ is owned by the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) and published by Sage Publications. ARNOVA is an international interdisciplinary association that fosters and disseminates research through NVSQ, its annual research conference, and other publications and events. Applications are welcome from individual applicants or teams of applicants – see instructions below. The future editorial team will play a leadership role in academic publishing as well as the field of nonprofit and voluntary action research.

Responsibilities of the Editor or Editorial Team

  • Provide overall leadership and direction for the content of the journal
  • Ensure submissions of high quality manuscripts to the journal
  • Arrange thorough and constructive peer reviews of manuscripts
  • Maintain an efficient and fair peer review process and adequate reviewer pool
  • Respond to authors in a timely way, communicating effectively with them, reviewers, editorial board members, other members of the editorial team, publishers staff, and other important journal stakeholders
  • Ensure that journal issues of appropriate length appear on time
  • Work productively with the journal’s publisher, Sage Publications
  • Oversee the Managing Editors workflow and responsibilities
  • Proactive about encouraging interdisciplinarity and encouraging quality submissions from across the humanities and social sciences relevant to nonprofit studies
  • Convene and work with an Editorial Board to help set the direction for the journal and establish major editorial policies. Refresh and diversify the Editorial Board as needed
  • Maintain and strengthen the scholarly reputation of the journal and its impact
  • Network, travel, and advocate on behalf of the journal within the research community, including attending the ARNOVA conference annually and convening the editorial board meeting there
  • Serve as non-voting board members, report to the ARNOVA board twice a year, and attend board meetings

Preferred Qualifications for the Role of Editor or Editorial Team

  • Candidates should be established scholars in the nonprofit research field, currently employed in a tenure-line or equivalent faculty position
  • Extensive experience as a researcher and peer-reviewer
  • Familiarity with NVSQ’s aims and scope, and previous involvement with the journal as an author, reviewer, or editorial board member
  • Familiarity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research
  • Proven leadership, administrative, and interpersonal skills
  • Open to different approaches to research both in terms of discipline as well as methods
  • Clear plan for how to increase diversity in the journal with respect to race/ethnicity and gender, and be responsive to the fact that NVSQ is an increasingly international journal. Editorial teams that are diverse in regards to race, ethnicity, gender, and country of origin are highly encouraged to apply
  • Experience with editorial roles, as evidence through experience editing special issues, serving on editorial boards, or assistant or associate editor experience

Workload and resources

NVSQ is currently receiving about 400 original submissions per year. In 2020, NVSQ published 57 research articles, a 13% acceptance rate. ARNOVA’s current contract with Sage ends on December 31, 2021. A new contract is currently being negotiated.

The future Editor(ial team) will be expected to mobilize significant financial support in the form of course releases, staff and material support from its host institution. The term of this position is three years, with the possibility of a renewal for an additional three years on mutual agreement of ARNOVA and the Editor(ial team). 

Timeline

Applications should be submitted by July 15, 2021 for full consideration. The search committee will ask for candidates on the short list to participate in a video conference interview in the first week of August, 2021. The ARNOVA Board will appoint the next NVSQ editor at its November 17, 2021, pre-conference meeting. Through June 30, 2022, the new Editor(ial team) will work with the current co-editors, Chao Guo, University of Pennsylvania, Susan Phillips, Carleton University, and Angela Bies, University of Maryland. The new Editor(ial team) will assume full responsibility on July 1, 2022.

NVSQ website: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/nvs

ARNOVA: https://www.arnova.org/

Application instructions

Interested candidates should submit the following materials: 

1) an editorial plan, including a vision for the journal, a proposed editorial structure, a statement on research integrity and publication ethics, and an indication of the level of support that will be committed by the Editor(ial team)’s host institution(s), no longer than 2,500 words.

2) the curriculum vitae of the Editor(s). Applications may be from individuals or small teams. For multiple editors, the curricula vitae can be combined into one PDF file or uploaded separately.

While not required, interested candidates are encouraged to contact ARNOVA’s executive director, Lynnette Cook (lcook@arnova.org) to express their intentions to apply for the Editor(ial team) position. Questions may also be directed to Lynnette Cook. Applications should be submitted electronically to the NVSQ Editor(ial team) Search Committee via NVSQsearch@arnova.org. All applications will be treated confidentially.

For a pragmatic approach to social impact assessment

Authors: Anne-Claire Pache1 & Greg Molecke2 Contributor: Eléonore Delanoë1

1ESSEC Business School, 2University of Exeter Business School

The Nobel prize in economics awarded to Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer in December 2019 has consecrated their game-changing work against poverty. At the heart of their work are experimental approaches using Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs), which have shed new light on the way the impact of social innovations can be assessed. RCTs compare the impact of a measure between a treatment group and a control group whose participants are selected at random. They are a powerful way to remove biases and isolate a specific action from the great swirl of other factors that may affect the result. However, they are far from being a “one-size-fits-all” approach because they are complex to set up and impose significant technical and financial demands on the organization. They also frequently require long timeframes to set up and run – running into years and decades – making them poor tools to help businesses and investors execute short- to medium-term strategies. RCTs work well to establish causal links between a given intervention and social impact. However, in many instances, the impact evaluation needs for innovators and their supports are quite different – with much more need for tools that can guide performance improvements rather than prove outcomes. The latest research by Anne-Claire Pache and Greg Molecke for the Handbook of Inclusive Innovation suggests that these needs vary based on where social innovators stand in the innovation cycle. We need to focus on what organizations need and what they can actually do if we want impact assessments to truly drive development and increase impact.

The growing concern for social impact assessment

The best impact assessment method depends on their specific evaluation needs, and these needs vary depending on where they are in the innovation life cycle. They often fall into two categories: needs to “improve” operations to enhance impact and needs to “prove” their impact to attract external stakeholders. The relative importance of proving vs improving shifts as enterprises progress through their innovation’s lifecycle. Competitive funding environments and performance-based management schemes have led to a large array of new assessment methods, with varying costs and scope of proof: outcome-based metrics, before/after comparisons, experimental methods, ethnographic thick descriptions… Assessing social impact however remains highly challenging. Assessment must deal with scarce data and difficult-to-measure effects, such as self-respect, freedom, or quality of life. Causal relationships between the impact and the intervention are often difficult to accurately trace and translate through the entire chain of cause and effect. Further, funders seek comparability across assessments; but comparing the effect of different innovations remains difficult, especially when innovations improve lives in very different ways and in different contexts. Social innovators also find that different assessments unevenly support internal (staff, beneficiaries…) and external (funders, regulators…) stakeholders with different priorities.

The experimentation stage: an iterative process

The social innovation life cycle starts with the experimentation stage. During this stage, resources dedicated to the project are scarce. The need to prove is low, while the need to improve is high. Innovators iteratively design their solution and attempt to get feedback. Their main focus is to understand the needs of beneficiaries and improve their design to best address them. This is often done with the help of in-depth qualitative methods (interviews, ethnographic observations), which provide “thick” descriptions of the lived experiences of the beneficiaries These methods are relatively easier and less costly to do. They enable iteration and provide actionable levers. They also allow the creation of detailed “theories of change” and “logic models” that can map how their enterprise’s activities will lead to social impact. An organization attempting to tackle homelessness may, for example, map out the key factors that cause homelessness and then create a chain of steps that would lead to alleviating each factor (called logic models). An innovation that improves only one of the causes of homelessness – a telehealth app, for example – can then track their progress on each of the steps in the specific logic model on how their innovation alleviates the specific underlying cause they are targeting. This way they can demonstrate social performance through progress on the steps in their chains, even if their innovation won’t singlehandedly end homelessness.  On the flip side, they cannot allow comparability across heterogeneous innovations, and don’t give certitude as to whether the expected social changes observed will actually result.

The business model stage: improving and proving the pertinence of the innovation

As an innovation enters the next lifecycle stage – the business model stage – innovators need to mobilize financial and political resources. The need to prove the potential of the innovation to external stakeholders becomes prominent. As more resources come in, a new array of tools start to come in handy: crafting “indicators” and “scorecards” to monitor and optimize their activities.

Outputs and Outcomes measured by performance monitoring can be used as proxies for impact measurement. Take solar lanterns, which can be used to replace polluting, hazardous kerosene lamps in off-grid rural areas in Sub Saharan Africa. The number of solar lamps distributed can be used as a proxy for impact, given the direct link between the use of the lamp and its impact (improved quality of life, decreased indoor air pollution). While “key performance indicators” reduce impact to simplified metrics that cannot fully capture the subtleties of the change, they can be useful tools to monitor and improve operations, as well as to report a sense of impact to the first external funders.

Scaling up impact: taking the innovation to the next level

As the innovation matures and reaches the scaling stage, it is time to provide rigorous proof of impact to funders, regulators and policymakers. As institutional funders, impact investors, and philanthropists get involved, they can bring in expertise and resources which make sophisticated impact assessments more accessible.

Among them, monetary measures translate social value into monetary terms. This sets the ground for comparability and considerations of cost-efficiency. These measures include Trucost Environmental Impact Metrics, Avoided Cost Methods, and Social Return on Investment (SROI). SROI measures compare the social impact generated to the investment costs required to launch the innovation. One Acre Fund, a nonprofit which works with smallholders in rural Africa, uses SROI to compare the additional monetary value of the crops their programs help farmers grow to sell and eat to the net costs of the program. The nonprofit has quickly found that this metric works best when included in scorecards which take other factors into account such as nutrition or soil health as well as scale. Monetary measures often raise a tricky question: how can a monetary value be attributed to social impact? Economists attempt to overcome this challenge by using proxies for the quantitative value of the innovation, such as the willingness to pay for an innovation, even though it is free. How much would people be willing to pay for free malaria bed nets? Once an economic value has been attributed, it can be included in a cost-benefit analysis. Avoided Cost Methods, might calculate repair, replacement, and substitution costs that are avoided when shifting course away from damaging status quo trajectories. For example, the malaria treatment costs avoided by providing bed nets.

Health-based methods, such as disability adjusted life years (DALYs), can also be useful. Through DALYs, health issues are converted into the number of years of life impaired or lost or due to sickness, disability or early death. So, if an enterprise successfully transitions rural areas from cooking over fire to cooking with natural gas, the extra years of healthy life and freedom from disability and burden that are gained by the woman and girls whose lungs no longer fill with smoke every day can be calculated. And the costs per extra DALY generated can be compared to the cost per DALY gained. This process allows funders and investors to direct their resources to places with the best cost/DALY.

These methods, unfortunately, can be difficult to calculate accurately and rely on best estimates of “what would have happened without the innovation” to calculate the actual impact. Only stringent experimental methods, such as RCTs can truly provide conclusive answers to the impact to a specific intervention. Yet, their outreach is limited by their significant cost, technical demands, and timescale. The scaling and mainstream lifecycle stages provide opportunities to implement them, but often only with external help to start.

Few organizations reach the mainstream stage. For those which do, their focus shifts to maintaining the innovation disruptive and making it adopted by others. It is then that organizations are most likely to choose methods that really suit their needs: they are no longer constrained by limited resources and legitimacy concerns.

A new way to look at impact assessment?

What does this lifecycle analysis teach us about assessing the impact of social innovations? Mainly that social innovators need to move beyond the mere question of “how to assess my social impact” to instead ask: “What do we want to do with social impact assessment?” Funders and investors have a key role in this process. First, they can help by aligning their impact assessment demands with other funders’ so that reporting requirements do not balloon with each new stakeholder brought aboard. Second, they can understand which measures are appropriate at different phases of the innovation lifecycle. Third, they can encourage impact assessments that focus on innovators’ needs to learn and improve over funders and investors’ need to prove and compare impact – especially during earlier stages in an innovation’s lifecycle. And finally, they can realize that social impact assessment requires specialized knowledge and resource that most innovators are unlikely to have until the very height of their innovation’s lifecycles, if ever. It may be wiser for funders and investors to provide the social impact assessments as a form of additional support they can deploy across their portfolios rather than having each innovator “reinvent the wheel” of social impact proofs. This keeps each innovation’s resources and attention where both the innovators and their stakeholders want it – on improving and scaling their impact.

How much of their income do people usually donate to charity?

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Michaela Neumayr & Astrid Pennerstorfer, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.

What amount of donations can you expect from people when fundraising for your organization? Who are the people who do not donate any money at all, and who are those who donate substantial amounts? Basically, charitable donations are considered to strongly vary across income classes, and fundraisers know that the amounts of individuals’ donations increase with their financial resources. But what proportion of income can you expect to be donated by people of different income groups?  Which income groups are more ‘generous’, those with higher or lower incomes?

Such questions have been discussed in scholarly research since the 1990s and answers to these questions are surprisingly diverse and even contradictory. In the debate concerning the “charitable giving profile” all kinds of shapes have been proposed. Some argue that it follows a U-shaped curve, with individuals at both ends of the income distribution donating the highest proportions of their income. For the US, for instance, those below an annual income of 10,000 USD donate about 4.6% of their income, while those with an income higher than 150,000 USD give 2.2%, and those in the middle 1.4%. Other studies do not find that lower-income groups are more generous, but rather describe the charitable-giving profile as a flat curve with an upward slope for higher-income groups. Yet other studies doubt the upwards swing on the right-hand side and instead find higher relative donation levels for lower income groups. We could go on with an account of yet other assumed shapes of previous studies, but we stop at this point to tell you about our study.

Our study The Relation Between Income and Donations as a Proportion of Income Revisited: Literature Review and Empirical Application consists of two parts. First, we systematically review 26 empirical studies that investigate the relation between income and proportion of income given, trying to make sense of the variety of existing results. In this review, one important explanation for diverging findings is the great number of varying methodological approaches in the previous studies. Second, we use the findings of this systematic review for an empirical application on Austrian income tax data (n = 20,000). In this second part, we are able to demonstrate how the various methods that have been used in previous studies lead to diverging findings. Based on that, we are able to tell which of the previous findings can be considered certain.

Returning to the first part of our study, we find three major reasons why results of previous studies vary so much:

– The first refers to the sample analysed. When describing the charitable giving profile it is crucial whether specific parts of the population are included in the sample (e.g. non-donors) or represented by a group that is large enough to draw unambiguous conclusions (e.g. high-income groups). Additionally, we find that both representative survey data and administrative tax data have their advantages and flaws for use in analysis of the charitable giving profile.  

– The second refers to the specification of variables. Previous studies have used different income and donation measures and this variation can also influence the result.

– The third refers to the method of analysis. The method how the charitable giving shape was determined varied greatly in previous studies ranging from mere visual inspection of donation/income ratios for different income classes, over bivariate to multivariate analyses.

In the second part, we take a sample of Austrian income tax data set to show how results regarding the charitable giving profile change when you vary the sample, define the variables differently or vary the statistical method. We find a visual inspection of the relation between income and the proportion of income donated to be especially unsatisfactory because results vary greatly depending on income class definitions and because visual inspection leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Results of various regression analyses point towards a U-shaped charitable giving profile. However, this is not what we find in the results when applying a more precise estimation technique (semi-parametric estimation), which displayed a downward-sloping relation for most income levels. We find this final method especially helpful for this question, as it allows to exactly describing the relationship between the income and proportion donated without any restrictions.

What can fundraisers take away from this for their practice? While our study has shown that results of previous analysis vary with the method in use, three conclusions regarding the relation between income and the proportion donated are safe to say. First, people in the lowest income group donate the largest proportion of income. While the share itself varies depending on the country context, it is always higher compared to other income groups within the respective country. Second, the profile of the charitable giving curve seems to be fairly flat for middle and high income groups. This means, middle and high income groups can be expected to give the same share of their income. Third, regarding the very high income groups the relation is more difficult to describe Important to note, this very high income group refers to the top 5-3% of the income profile only. Within this group, fundraisers still have to find out for themselves what amounts can be achieved, while for all other groups it is known statistically what proportions and thus amounts can be expected.

Click here to access the full NVSQ research article: Neumayr, M. & Pennerstorfe, A. (2020). The Relation Between Income and Donations as a Proportion of Income Revisited: Literature Review and Empirical Application, Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly, https://doi.org/10.1177/0899764020977667.