Research & Writing
Individual Americans donated $310 billion to charity in 2019. Almost half this sum came from donors who earned under $200,000*. Yet little is known about the needs and behavior of Small (who give under $1,000 a year) and Midlevel donors (who give between $2,000 and $20,000 a year).
Sylvia Brown conducts research and writes regularly about this overlooked and underserved demographic, particularly Midlevel donors who earn between $100,000 and $2000,000 annually. She has identified a noticeable shift in giving behavior at $150,000 in annual income, a level considerably below the minimum considered “High Net Worth” and well below the earnings required for access to the philanthropy advisory services of private banks or consultants.
Sylvia’s research shows that Small and Midlevel donors care deeply about their giving and are eager to learn how to be more effective – so long as this requires a minimal investment in time and money. To this end, Sylvia developed Smart Donors… Make a Difference, a simple, engaging curriculum to equip individual donors with tools to make smarter decisions.
*Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2019
Sylvia’s research is of particularly interest to advisors of mid-size clients looking to improve their customer relations at minimal cost.
Jul 28, 2020
The first two articles in my “Philanthropy’s Missing Middle” series on results from the Boston College Survey of MidLevel Donors…
Jul 23, 2020
Since the birth of our nation, charitable giving has been a defining characteristic of Americans at all socio-economic levels. But…
May 19, 2019
This article was co-authored with Ayele Shakur, CEO of BUILD, my Encore Public Voices Fellowship colleague - First appeared on…
Feb 15, 2019
OPINION FEBRUARY 12, 2019 PREMIUM All Donors Need More Education — Not Just the Wealthy By Sylvia Brown PETE RYAN…
Feb 02, 2019
To better inform my new online course “Smarter Donors… Make a Difference,” I conducted market research using Userinterviews.com. I asked…
Jan 28, 2019
The American College of Financial Services asked me to contribute a piece to the quarterly newsletter of the Chartered Advisor in…
Jan 07, 2019
My time as an Encore Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project has opened my eyes to the reality that aging…
Nov 27, 2018
Since 2008, the portion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.90 a…
Nov 27, 2018
Last year, $41 billion were given to America’s universities. Donors fund higher education for many reasons, but most are rooted…
Grappling With Legacy
– Rhode Island’s Brown Family and the American Philanthropic Impulse
What fuels a family’s compulsion for philanthropy?
When Sylvia Brown’s father handed much of his inheritance to Brown University in 1995, the gesture maintained a 300-year family philanthropic tradition. Less than a decade later, the University launched its Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice at whose inaugural symposium one speaker declared “there were no good Browns.” Grappling With Legacy was born of the juxtaposition between these starkly opposed perspectives.
Sylvia has delved into one of the country’s largest family archives to understand what fuels a multi-generational compulsion to giving: Self-interest? A feeling of guilt? A sense of genuine altruism? The Brown family mirrors America’s evolving urge to do good — from colonial era charity, to reformist initiatives in the Early Republic, to the philanthropy of the Gilded Age, to social impact investing today.
Set against the distinctive backdrop of Rhode Island, this rich family saga provides a fresh perspective on a frequently overlooked era surprisingly akin to the present day, characterized by economic dislocation, partisan politics, and growing social disparities. Out of this age of unrest emerged America’s philanthropic impulse, which has become such an intrinsic part of our national ethos.
Sylvia’s tale is anchored around Nicholas Brown II (1769-1841), an emotionally complex individual who lived during a fascinating but troubled era when the new nation was defining itself. In him, we find the timeless tensions between a yearning for order and a concern for those less fortunate; between resistance to changing times and radical ideas for improving society; between authoritarian parents and defiant children. Distressed by the turmoil of the times, he poured his wealth into institutions intended to provide society with a moral compass. Above all, he pioneered the modern notion of a university as a force for good.
“This is a fascinating and intellectually honest work about a remarkable family that has played a major role in the history of Providence and Rhode Island. Sylvia Brown has made a tremendous contribution in writing this wonderful book.”
President of Carnegie Corporation of New York,
Former President of Brown University
“A splendid work of history—an honest, clearly written, and solidly based account of the private and public lives through four centuries of one of America’s most important and fascinating families.”