Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is There a Life Cycle for Popular Charities?

Recent years have seen several charities rise quickly to the top of public awareness. It's anecdotal evidence, but it seems many of these popular charities follow a similar course: their rapid rise in popularity first brings quickly rising donations; next, over time the public's obsession turns into scrutiny; the scrutiny, in turn, breeds disenchantment with the organization and donations dry up.

The next chart demonstrates this point using four recent cases, plotting each organization's gifts, grants, & contributions as a percentage of that in their peak year. The pattern is remarkably similar though the underlying story of each is, of course, very different.
Gifts, Grants, & Contributions as a Percentage of Peak Amounts
Does this pattern signal an overly fickle public? Or, does it represent a public slow to examine an organization before supporting it? I'm not sure, but maybe it does signal to other charities that find themselves in the spotlight that just because the public is fully supportive doesn't mean they won't soon be harder to persuade.


  1. Great post, Brian. It seems to me that a common theme is lack of transparency around strategy and growth. Finding out that Komen is suing smaller charities that use the name "for the Cure," for example, rubs the general public the wrong way -- whether it makes business sense or not. I wonder if any of these "falls from grace" could have been avoided if leadership were more proactive in addressing controversial decisions. By not beating the media to the punch, the message is controlled by catchy headlines, which is bound to make the response much worse for charities. Once you're in reaction mode, you're on the defensive and everyone assumes you're up to no good. Interesting to think about in the context of WWP.

  2. Hello Brian. Interesting post - I'm in UK, working with major charities around the "soft" challenges they face - particularly leadership and engagement. I was comparing Adizes Corporate Lifecycle work ( to that of charities, and in particular those anomalies that cause people to "fall off the curve". Yours in the only work I've found. Happy to share thinking if it interests. Nice work.

    1. I agree with your thoughts. Despite substantial effort devoted to business lifecycles, I have found little about this with charities. Admittedly, this chart is just some anecdotal data about the question. Would be interested in seeing theories and/or broader empirical examination of this issue.