Where are the Philanthropists?

There are so many generous people in the world, and it is amazing how selflessly people will give. It is incredibly meaningful to see what people will do to make a difference. But, as often as I am surprised by generosity, I am surprised by how few people are invested in philanthropy. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t give, and in the economy we live in everyone is struggling to get by, but many of us still live with a little bit extra. For many organizations, grassroots giving is their foundation, and they receive a large portion of their funding out of $50 and $100 monthly gifts.

In fact, the majority of organizations I’ve worked for treat $1,000 as a major gift. Even large organizations with Major Gifts Officers cultivating $100,000 gifts like World Vision will cultivate $1,000 givers in a more personal way. I am always surprised at how few Major Donors many organizations actually have. Many people’s coffee budgets are larger than their charitable giving. How many people make a fuss about recycling, the environment, or not wasting food, but never give a dime to an organization serving those purposes? Giving $80 a month will make someone a major donor with the majority of organizations and will often do way more for the environment or wasting food than any personal advocacy ever will.

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2 Responses to Where are the Philanthropists?

  1. Phyllis says:

    “Giving $80 a month will make someone a major donor with the majority of organizations and will often do way more for the environment or wasting food than any personal advocacy ever will.”

    Hmmm….I agree with the notion of the importance of grassroots fundraising and cultivating smaller donors in a personal way. But when you went to this place (above) it seems like you traveled (perhaps unconsciously) to the land of making their philanthropy or lack of philanthropy about what you want to see happen not what the individual is motivated to do. Am I misreading this? Will that $80 per month do way more for them than personal advocacy for those who are at that place, irrespective of financial capacity? How do you know this? I think if that were the case we’d be seeing that $80 per month, yes?

    How do we account for the many example of individuals and families from limited and less limited means who have nothing but or only choose personal advocacy as a tool and then are very effective with that tool? What happens when we meet people who seem to clearly have personal financial capacity but the outcome we see from them is only personal advocacy? Do we know what’s happening in the unseen? Do we really believe they’ve had a stellar personal experience with our organization? Are we ready to question ourselves and see our organizations through their eyes? Perhaps we don’t have the fiscal/financial stability we think we have. Perhaps their regard for our volunteer leadership ain’t as good as we think it is. Perhaps their regard for our staff leadership ain’t as good as we think it is.

    So I think you’ve touched on an interesting subject: personal motivation. What we know from research and experience is the best cultivation of all is a good giving and institutional experience. Are we really doing that for all donors and advocates in our organization? Is the question being asked? How do we know? The first gift is the hardest, we know this. So, are we ready to examine why that may not be happening?

    I think you’ve stumbled on a nice thread here…I wonder what others think?

  2. Jason Dick says:

    I have received some great feedback on this post. I have painted a very broad brush stroke on an unspoken issue and decided to say something about it. As a result it has probably come off a little bit critical and judgmental as a post. I would love more feedback positive and negative on this post.

    I have also made a grand statement in saying that often times organizations do more for a cause than individual people. I would stand by that statement as well but I believe organizations are made up of individual people.

    I do know a number of people that spend more on coffee than they do on philanthropy.

    Phyllis thank you for your comment. You first point is very true and my statement that giving $80 a month will do more than personal advocacy will is packed full of opinion. I probably should have said, “Giving $80 a month OFTEN does more than AN AVERAGE PERSON DOES IN ADVOCACY. I think that when someone really believes in something and makes a real commitment to make a difference that it will almost always do more than money will. In fact the best organizations are often started or sustained by that kind of person.

    Phyllis you are absolutely right that I do not know what is going on behind the scenes. I am making a generalization based on what the experiences I have had are. I think my judgment comes from a look at my interpretation of people’s priorities. I have met a lot of people who will advocate for one thing one month and another thing a different month. I have been a part of a number of conversations with donors where they say they are an advocate for the organization but that it has become a way of saying “no I will not give”. We are not on the hook for our advocacy, no one is checking in and asking if we advocated this month. Most of the people that I know who are the very best advocates are also donors. It is the rare exception that I meet someone who is passionate and consistent about advocacy and they do not give. I meet a lot of people who talk about advocating and don’t give.

    Phyllis you made another great point I wanted to highlight around motivation. You said that I crossed over into “land of making their philanthropy or lack of philanthropy about what you want to see happen not what the individual is motivated to do.” That is a great statement and one that I unwittingly made. However, I have often found that the true needs of an organization do not link up identically with the motivation of the donor. I have also seen organizations take gifts that followed a donor’s passion that went outside of the organization’s mission resulting in a bad experience for the organization, the donor, and the intending outcome of the organizations mission. The real magic in fundraising and donor development is when you can have a conversation where a donor’s passion and your organization’s greatest need start to align.

    I would love to hear from others as well. I think I may have struck a bit of a nerve. If I’ve offended you please let me know how and what your thoughts are. I would love it if I received a bunch of comments contradicting what I’ve written.

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