Ask a local United Way or community foundation about what giving changes they've seen, and you'll hear about unrestricted giving.
Which way the needle's traveling, though, depends on the organization. They generally agree that donors are becoming more involved, but on funds not designated for a specific recipient, that cuts two ways.
"We don't get many unrestricted gifts at all," said Janice Black, president and CEO of The Foundation for Enhancing Communities. The trend goes back about a decade, she said, and she thinks it's connected to the rise of technology that has enabled people to do more of their own research on nonprofits.
That's not to say that TFEC doesn't have unrestricted funds: It does, and it makes regular grants from them. But they're mostly from endowments that were set up years ago. New gifts tend to be directed funds.
Tim Fatzinger, president and CEO of United Way of the Capital Region, said general giving there has remained flat over the past five years, while directed giving increased by about 38 percent. This year's campaign is stressing the importance of general giving, he said, and increasing that component is a long-term goal.
"We encourage and appreciate all giving, but the power of a general gift to our United Way is its ability to make a collective impact around priority issues," Fatzinger said.
UWCR's donor ratio has held pretty steady at about 75 percent individual to 22 percent corporate. However, Fatzinger said, overall UWCR is raising more money annually from fewer and fewer donors.
United Way of Lancaster County, conversely, hasn't seen much of an increase in designated giving and is still working on getting donations back to prerecession levels. However, undesignated giving has held pretty steady at roughly three-quarters of all giving. President and CEO Patrick Jinks said the organization has been promoting undesignated gifts for the past two years but still allows designations.
"Our work locally continues to move from being a federated fundraiser for a set group of agencies to a community impact organization, focused on population-level goals and solutions," Jinks said. "This year, we are noticing fewer people designating their gifts, and more people entrusting their investment to the United Way process and product."
Completing the undesignated spectrum is the York County Community Foundation, where director of communications Patricia Azriel said its most flexible option — Fund for York County — has seen a tremendous increase in support over the past few years, more than doubling in size since 2009.
"In 2013 alone, six new funds were created in support of the Fund for York County," Azriel said.
But that didn't happen by chance. It is, according to YCCF President and CEO William R. Hartman, a result of the organization's promoting the use of the fund to support initiatives to address the community's greatest needs, "as well as the fact that the communities' leaders, our donors and professional advisors alike have all strongly embraced YCCF's role as a catalyst for community leadership and improvement."
Tracy Cutler, vice president of communications and donor cultivation at the Lancaster County Community Foundation, said online giving is the change that organization is focusing on.
"As national trends show a continuing growth pattern in online donations, we have introduced the Extraordinary Give as a way to inspire online giving in our local communities and encourage organizations to engage with digital donors," Cutler said.
In November, the second annual Extraordinary Give resulted in about 21,700 online gifts that sent more than $3.2 million to 260 local nonprofits — and roughly one-third of donors self-reported as first-time givers to their chosen organization.
Extraordinary Give is not just about the funds raised, Cutler said, it's also an opportunity for LCCF to encourage, support and train nonprofits as they work on increasing their online presence.
Jinks said UWLC has seen modest growth in online giving during the past five years, but it still has a long way to go to become significant.
"Practically speaking, it is a very small percentage of our contributions, with less than $25,000 total, and fewer than 100 donors using online tools," Jinks said.
According to the Extraordinary Give website, UWLC received 40 donations for a total of $12,405. However, he said, the UWLC website does offer online giving, and a campaign in the spring will promote that service.