How America Advocates

Have you seen this infographic on philanthropy in the United States?

It has received a ton of attention, with some really fascinating ‘slices’ of the data, including this piece on whether ‘red’ or ‘blue’ states are most generous, in terms of the percentage of income contributed to charitable causes. (Of course, there are some obvious distortions there, particularly that religious/sectarian organizations receive a large share of charitable contributions in the U.S., so, without an ability to parse out giving to non-sectarian entities, ‘generosity’ can be conflated with ‘religiosity’, even though they are really measuring somewhat different constructs.)

There was an article in my local paper about how one quite poor census tract was pretty extraordinarily generous, and the data came from this same report.

I love data, I love people giving their money to help others, so this is quite fun for me.

But what I’d REALLY like?

The same sort of map, but with information about how, and where, people engage in advocacy on behalf of causes they care about.

We have voter data, of course, on the same scale: who votes, how often, and for whom.

But what I want to know is what advocacy looks like, both because I’m just curious about how civic and political engagement play out across the country, and because I think that kind of data would lay the foundation for really important studies of the quality of policies that emerge in different areas depending on the level of advocacy, and, maybe, how voter engagement fares where there is more policy interaction, too.

Maybe the raw data would be communication generated to members of Congress, because that could be trackable, and number of non-corporate registered lobbyists in the state, and maybe some local measures, like participation at city council meetings. Maybe we could roll in referenda, too, in the states that allow them. It would require many different data sources, obviously, since ‘advocacy’ takes so many different forms, and no one measure could adequately capture them. It would be subjective to a considerable degree, and certainly miss a lot of activity that could be considered advocacy, but, again, the charitable giving measure isn’t perfect, either, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t tremendously valuable information there.

I haven’t found any sort of ‘advocacy aggregation’, in my search to date, but I would be beyond delighted if someone knows of data sources (or, even better, something that’s already analyzed!) to point me towards.

In the meantime, I’m thinking about what we can learn from these data on charitable giving–since donors are obviously people who are at least somewhat attuned to the needs of others, and willing to make an investment to meet them–to continue to explore the fundraising/advocacy link, in our organizations and within the sector.

Besides, the map is super fun.


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