Pick.Click.Give.: A Curious Analysis
By Robert Foran III
The average percentage of Alaskans who donate through Pick.Click.Give. (P.C.G.) when applying for their Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) is around 5 percent and is not a significant amount when the average total of Alaskans receiving a PFD is around 632,000.
Pick.Click.Give. Program Manager, Jessie Lavoie, MPA, said, “Of those who have applied for the PFD this year we’re seeing a 4.49% stated at Pick.Click.Give, which is an increase from last year but not a substantial one. So there’s still only a small portion of those filers that actually give a part of their PFD.”
As of the March 31 PFD application deadline, the rate of giving through (P.C.G.) has not reached its peak yet this year according to Lavoie. Updates are available twice a month to P.C.G. where the most recent one on April 19th showed donations were at $2,907,075. 2015 was the highest year for donations through P.C.G. at $3,329,575. This contribution resulted to 6% of PFD recipients donating — the highest number to date.
Regarding total pledges, Lavoie said, “The last couple years went down. In 2017 it was 2.7 (million) and then last year was 2.5, but so far this year it’s jumped back up to 2.9. We’re finally getting some longevity in the program where you can kind of see the pattern as it goes.”
These statistics sparked an interest to ask some fair questions about why P.C.G. endures such low percentages and what makes Alaskans choose to donate or not to donate each year.
The motive behind P.C.G. was developed in 2008 by the Alaska State Legislature to provide Alaskans an opportunity to become philanthropists. The program allows residents to donate a portion or all of their dividend to charitable and/or educational non-profit organizations when they apply for their PFD.
Since 2015, it has been managed by The Alaska Community Foundation, following the Rasmuson Foundation, still one of the vital players in the longevity of the program, along with The Foraker Group and State Department of Revenue.
So why are so many people not sharing a piece of their extra income in order support and sustain some of the fundamental groups in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and other important areas around the state? — groups that people may take for granted. Posting on Facebook in my neighborhood’s community council page, I asked for reasons why people chose not to utilize P.C.G. Answers were almost unanimous about the 7 percent processing fee.
One resident wrote, “We give directly (to organizations) because of the fees. We want it ALL to go to the charity. The instability with the PFD, and what our politicians will choose to “let us have” each year also affected our giving through Pick.Click.Give. We don’t need a program like that to be charitable, we can do it on our own.”
In 2015, the legislature decided to collect 7 percent of donations toward the non-profits. This move was implemented for P.C.G.’s commitment to work and make it possible for each organization, especially the smaller, more secluded organizations to benefit from the support. The fee goes directly to The Alaska Community Foundation where the majority covers the cost for strategic marketing, public relations, fundraising coaching, and other resources for participating non-profits.
“What we typically do during the off-season, which is from now to August 31st is really work with non-profits to keep that messaging going and do that grassroots marketing. Whether that’s a social media or radio presence,” said Lavoie. “A lot of non-profits took it upon themselves to really own their brand and do their own marketing which really played a part in the 2.9 (million dollars) that we’re seeing.”
Despite the addition of the 7 percent fee, Lavoie’s reports show that it did not have a significant affect on the percentage of Alaskans donating through P.C.G.
The unknown dividend amount must affect how much P.C.G. participants give or if they’ll give at all. Every year people face new and unpredictable life expenses. The economic climate is still not ideal, the proposed state budget has our communities concerned and even this year’s uncertain promise of a $3,000+ PFD still leaves it hard to predict any sort of outcome. All P.C.G. can look to is averages with a hope of seeing them rise.
“We keep track of dollars per donor and how much each person is giving on average,” said Lavoie. “Last year was $104.89. This year is a record high at $113.91. We have not seen it go up past $107 before and all of a sudden this year with a lot of uncertainty and turmoil with the proposed budget, we’re seeing that the people who are giving are giving more.”
If Alaska residents receive a big PFD this year, the result of how they choose to spend it may still not go in P.C.G.’s favor.
“It seems that when we have more to give, even though more people are giving, those people are giving less,” Lavoie said.
Lighting Designer and owner of 49th State Motor Tours, Cedar Cussins, regularly donates to Anchorage Opera, The Hospice of Anchorage and others, but made it clear that she depends on her PFD to help pay for raising her children and the bills that come with it. Cussins believes the program deserves more support and emphasized that the addition of an eduction fund through P.C.G. earned them more reason to receive support.
“Overall I think it’s a vehicle that’s underused.” Cussins said. “I also saw that there’s an education fund where you can donate in $100 increments I believe. I just think that’s a brilliant way for citizens to directly tell the government, ‘I think education is important and I’m going to directly fund that out of my PFD.’”
Alaskans are not even provided what the amount of the PFD will be until the Governor reveals it each year in September, but the P.C.G. deadline is on August 31. Why not consider pushing the P.C.G. deadline back until a week or two after the PFD amount is revealed? Is that not a fair window of time to try and make a difference in the percentage of donations that go toward keeping important organizations within our communities alive and thriving?
Lavoie explained that each year there are some generous contributions where either 100% of PFDs are given through P.C.G. or a large sum of it. But 90% of applicants remain within the $25 to $75 range.
“Those amounts are easy to do,” Lavoie said, “it doesn’t feel like it hurts a whole lot if that family may be hurting and needing that money. We also see a good chuck of $100 donations. It’s a well rounded amount that feels good.”
With Alaska being home to such a diverse amount of people, different cares come with that, so it’s important to offer contrasting charities. The 2019 list consists of 629 organizations, which is slightly lower than the previous year. However, according to Lavoie, who is communicating with the PFD division, the number for 2020’s applicants is already known to be well over 660.
If you are donating to these charities, you are part of the difference by giving organizations stability. It is important to understand what your favorite organizations’ goals are. If the goal is large, you may want to consider putting all your eggs in one basket to truly help. If you know the non-profit(s) you like have a more established foundation, then spreading $25 or $75 to several organizations will prove worthy. Essentially, there’s no wrong way to do it, but a little research may be helpful toward choosing your donation amounts.
To understand reasons why applicants choose to use the program or not, Pick.Click.Give is asking residents to complete this four-minute survey: www.pickclickgive.org/2018/05/16/help-us-understand-why-you-give-or-not-through-pick-click-give