Posted on 13 April 2012 | No responses
I hate to disagree with Simone Joyaux’s recent column in the Nonprofit Quarterly for a few reasons: 1) As a consultant, blogger, and all-around nonprofit expert, Joyaux is an excellent source of valuable tips and insightful commentary; 2) the question she asks in her column, “What’s the Role of a Fundraiser,” is a fascinating topic and one that deserves further exploration; and 3) her opinion on the subject is a wonderfully positive, optimistic take on exactly what we fundraisers should strive to achieve in our careers. Unfortunately, her assertions are unrealistic at best, and, at worst, potentially damaging to nonprofits.
Joyaux begins her column with a troubling admission: “I don’t care if the donor gives a gift to my organization or to another organization. It’s all philanthropy. And philanthropy is about the donor. Philanthropy is bigger than any single organization.” Joyaux then lays out a three-fold role for a fundraiser that includes “increase social capital and promote civic engagement;” “nurture relationships to foster philanthropy and strengthen community;” and finally, thankfully: “increase and diversify philanthropy for one’s employing organization.” Only the latter role allows the fundraiser to “turn his attention to his own organization.”
Now I admire Joyaux’s altruistic approach to the role of fundraisers. It’s a very nice image indeed. But fundraisers are not keepers of the flame for the concept of philanthropy. We are salaried employees, oftentimes some of the most highly-paid employees at a nonprofit. It is literally our job to raise money for the organizations for which we work. It’s not our “role” to “promote civic engagement” or “strengthen community.” It is our role to earn our salaries by committing ourselves 100% to raising money for our employers. Not only do they pay us to do so, but they depend on us to help facilitate the essential giving that allows nonprofits to achieve their missions and, in some cases, simply keep the doors open.
It is the role of specific nonprofits to support and strengthen their communities and, to accomplish that, they hire fundraisers to raise money toward that mission. If fundraisers want to concentrate on benefitting their communities in ways other than raising money for their organizations, they can do so in their free time. I do. It’s great, and I don’t have to divert from my professional responsibilities to do so.
I agree with Joyaux that “philanthropy is bigger than any single organization,” but she confuses the topic when she claims “philanthropy and fund development are not about getting your organization’s fair share. Philanthropy and fund development are about finding those who might be interested and then nurturing relationships and loyalty. And not just for money!” Since when were philanthropy and “fund development” the same thing? They are not. Fund development is simply one aspect of philanthropy, an important aspect that needs to be done properly for philanthropy to work.
Just like Joyaux, I have an admission of my own to make: I DO care if a donor gives to my organization or another organization. Why? Because it’s my job. My organization pays me to care. I also care about strengthening community and promoting civil engagement, but I spend my free time working toward those efforts, while I concentrate my work hours on fulfilling my responsibilities as a fundraiser.
We are paid professionals with the very important, very serious, job of helping nonprofits achieve their worthy goals by raising money. Ignoring that, and concentrating on some of Joyaux’s other “roles” is akin to failing our organizations and not fulfilling our responsibilities as employees. I believe that would be harmful not only to fundraisers, but to philanthropy as a whole. As much as I respect Joyaux’s views on philanthropy, I hope fundraisers ignore her advice on this topic and keep doing their jobs in a committed, professional manner.
Posted on 11 April 2012 | No responses
As we mentioned in the past, the mission of this blog is to examine the intersection between philanthropy and society. Well, there hasn’t been a more publicized, polarizing story in our society recently than the Trayvon Martin shooting and, inevitably, philanthropy is now a significant aspect of the ongoing controversy.
Martin’s parents recently set up a foundation that raised $21,000 already “to support awareness of civil rights, social justice and the quality of life for young black men.”
The man who shot Martin, George Zimmerman, set up a website to communicate with his supporters and solicit funds for living expenses and legal fees.
Also, a Michigan teacher claims she was fired for organizing a student fundraiser in support of the Martin family.
So here, embedded in the nation’s most visible and polarizing story, we can see several different ways philanthropy impacts society. First, we have grieving parents using philanthropy to create an organization to combat what they feel is a social ill. On the other end of the spectrum, we have an individual using philanthropy as a means to support and legally defend himself. And caught up in the wake of it all, we have a teacher claiming she was fired for her philanthropic efforts related to the case.
The Martin case shows how we, as a society, use philanthropy to speak for us, to amplify our voices in a way few other methods can match. They say actions speak louder than words, but money bellows above both. Philanthropy brings like-minded people together, it strengthens the cause of each side of a debate, and – in one example – it can even lead to drastic repercussions. Philanthropy isn’t a right, and it’s not always altruistic. But it is a very powerful tool for people to express their views and impose their will on a situation.
In the Martin case, philanthropy is the means through which the principle players are galvanizing support and gaining strength for their goals. No other methods would have been as powerful.
Posted on 5 April 2012 | 1 response
In what is hopefully the end to an embarrassing nonprofit scandal, an investigative report from the Montana Attorney General’s office found that Greg Mortenson, the author of “Three Cups of Tea” and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, must reimburse the organization $1 million for improper use of charitable contributions.
As always, this kind of story doesn’t just hurt the organization and the people it purports to serve, it damages the philanthropic community as a whole. When the head of one organization is found to be fraudulent, doubts are cast on all nonprofit leadership, and the general public becomes even more skeptical of the nonprofit community.
But the case of Mortenson is more disconcerting than most of the scandals that infect the philanthropic community because he was the founder of the organization and actively solicited the very money he pocketed for his own gain.
I saw Mortenson speak once at New York University several years ago, and I was struck by the hold he had on his audience. His harrowing story of how he dedicated his life to building schools in Central Asia after being lost on a hike in Pakistan and wandering into a small village was inspiring. He spoke with a passion and commitment I find hard to believe was insincere. And perhaps, at the time, it wasn’t. Perhaps Motenson really was dedicated to his cause. Perhaps the lure of fame and money simply meant more to him in the end.
Sadly, Mortenson’s tale will have a negative impact on the nonprofit community as a whole. The public’s trust, always such a vital component of the donor-nonprofit relationship, will be further shaken. But there is a lesson here for both sides. An organization takes on a major risk when it allows one person to be its face to the public (just ask Invisible Children). And donors too need to be more educated about the organizations they support. A worthy-sounding mission and a splashy website is not enough. Donors must examine how a nonprofit spends its money and make sure that they are comfortable with how their donations will be used.
Yes, there are lessons to be learned here. But there is also the cold truth that nonprofits are run by people, and people are corruptible, no matter what causes they support. Unfortunately, the philanthropic community is not immune to the sad realities of human nature.
Posted on 2 April 2012 | No responses
Full disclosure, I like Charity: Water. I think they are a smart, effective nonprofit that addresses one of the woefully underrepresented global crises today: the shortage of clean drinking water and its deadly impact on hundreds of millions of people around the world.
However, I think the most impressive about Charity: Water is how it convinced people that it somehow created a new method for raising money or, in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s words, created an “unconventional charity.”
Founded by Scott Harrison, a former concert promoter, Charity: Water always has been extremely effective in using social media and modern technology to differentiate itself and craft an image as an innovative organization. And they are. But I find it disconcerting that media outlets, especially one as focused on the nonprofit world as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, continue to describe Charity: Water as an organization that is changing the way nonprofits should operate. Instead, Charity: Water is simply adopting the standard practices that most nonprofits use to run their organizations.
In its recent article, The Chronicle of Philanthropy lists the following “secrets” that Harrison attributes to his organization’s success, even though they are nothing but updated versions of time-tested nonprofit strategies (italics are the Chronicle’s words, the following commentary is mine):
1) “Demonstrate results . . . Mr. Harrison said he has been dedicated to showing donors where their money is going through photo documentation and GPS coordinates.”
This is called stewardship. Every nonprofit does it. It’s the practice of showing your donors the impact of their giving. Using GPS coordinates does not represent a change in the practice of stewardship. This is not a secret.
2) “Good design and branding. Mr. Harrison wanted his charity’s image to focus on its mission to provide clean water to Africa.”
Wait, a nonprofit wants its image to focus on its mission?!? I’ve never heard of such of a thing! . . . that was sarcastic.
3) “Not charging donors for overhead. Mr. Harrison created two accounts when he founded the organization: one for operating expenses and one for programs so that 100 percent of donor money would go to water projects.”
Creating an unrestricted, general operating account to go along with accounts for restricted giving is a common practice, not a secret.
4) “Broadcast your failures. Every year, Charity: Water drills a well during a live broadcast. One year, that drilling found no water. To confront the issue head on, Mr. Harrison filmed a video of the failed drilling and sent it to all of the organization’s supporters. He now considers that one of the most compelling things the organization has done. ‘People just want to hear the truth,’ he said.”
Admittedly, proactive communications about failures and other unflattering news is not practiced by enough organizations, both in the for-profit and non-profit worlds. But it’s also not a “secret.” It’s simply a proactive approach to crisis communications that is well-known.
5) “You are what you eat. Mr. Harrison says his organization doesn’t spend much time with other nonprofits because it doesn’t want to operate like other nonprofits. He spends much more time talking to entrepreneurs, especially those in the technology world, because those are the organizations he most wants to emulate.”
I honestly have no idea how this is supposed to be considered “unconventional.” This is the head of a nonprofit saying he spends much more time with prospects and leaders of successful organizations than he spends with other nonprofits. I can’t think of a charitable organization that doesn’t do this. If Harrison “doesn’t want to operate like other nonprofits,” he sure has a strange way of going about it.
Again, I’m not attacking Charity: Water here. I think they’re pretty great actually, and I wish more nonprofits and donors would pay attention to the growing global catastrophe of the clean water shortage. I believe there is no other more pressing, important humanitarian cause in the world today. If you have a second, go over to Charity: Water’s website and give them some money. I think they deserve it, and I know the cause does. And honestly, I don’t blame Harrison for crafting this false narrative about the “unconventional” nature of his organization. It gets him and Charity: Water in the news and in front of prospective donors.
No, what I object to is the media pretending that Charity: Water is breaking new ground here simply because it is a nice story and may generate some page hits. The real lesson here is how Charity: Water applied social media and new technology to tried-and-true methods from the nonprofit world to create a very successful organization. That’s informative, and that’s a story from which donors, nonprofits, etc can all learn.
Posted on 28 March 2012 | 1 response
Yesterday, we discussed Invisible Children and the potential for future philanthropists to be turned off by the controversy over its Kony 2012 video. It is a personal issue for me as a not only a fundraising professional and nonprofit donor myself, but more importantly as a father of a 2-year old son who I want to teach about the importance of philanthropy.
All of this got me thinking about the best methods for introducing philanthropy to a younger generation. I think the Kony 2012 situation reveals some of the limits of “clicktivism,” with its immediate, but tenuous, engagement with a cause. Invisible Children did a tremendous job of reaching a younger generation where they reside online, but real philanthropy comes when people first understand what is important to them, and then find a philanthropic outlet to affect positive change. It’s not simply stirring up the emotions of a large audience and getting them to support a cause, it’s connecting a nonprofit’s mission to a donor’s own set of beliefs and values.
These concepts are difficult to introduce to children, but leave it to someone who works everyday with elementary school kids to figure out a great way to achieve this.
At Spencer Borden Elementary School in Fall River, MA, school counselor Annie Palumbo started an after-school Philanthropy Club for 20 grammar-school children, and undertook the daunting task of teaching kids the concept of philanthropy. Instead of telling them what philanthropy is supposed to be, and rather than selecting a cause for them to tackle, Palumbo thought up a simple exercise that should stand as the first step for anyone trying to teach children about philanthropy:
“On the first day I told (the students) to break up into groups and decide what we can do to help the community,” Palumbo said. “They all came up with ideas on their own and then we talked about which options best fit what we could do and which would make a difference . . . I thought if I decided what projects we would do it wouldn’t mean as much as what they thought was important to them and to the community.”
Brilliant. I can’t think of a more basic, yet deeply fundamental, description of the nature of philanthropy.
One of the first causes the group decided to tackle was litter. They didn’t try to “raise awareness” or hold a fundraiser to help some established cause. Instead, they put on gloves, walked to a nearby park, and started picking up the litter scattered about. They embodied the quote from Walt Disney we’ve mentioned before: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
And if you think this exercise didn’t instill the proper appreciation for the power of philanthropy, just ask fourth-grader Brianna Raposo why she and her classmates got involved:
“We don’t want the Earth to be yucky, because if we do, it’s not going to be good environment to live in.”
Spoken like a true philanthropist!!
Posted on 27 March 2012 | 2 responses
Since the Kony 2012 video exploded onto the scene several weeks ago, there has been no shortage of criticism and controversy surrounding the phenomena and the organization that launched it, Invisible Children.
The video famously (infamously?) drew more than 80 million views and thrust its director, Jason Russell, into the international spotlight. The resulting glare led to a disturbing meltdown from Russell that was caught on tape and led to his recent stay in a mental health facility.
Now, in the last couple of days, Invisible Children has released another video claiming that “Kony 2012 is Working,” (see below) featuring the group’s CEO, Ben Keesey, and its Director of Idea Development, Jedidiah Jenkins. But, in what seems to be an inevitable event in the course of this story, another video has quickly surfaced casting Invisible Children, and Jenkins in particular, in a bad light.
Now here at Philanthropy in Focus, we’ve stayed relatively clear of the Invisible Children situation other than to discuss criticisms leveled at its philanthropic efforts. The other aspects of the case simply have not been as relevant to our mission here as other philanthropy-related stories of late. But during a recent conversation among bloggers (see blogroll!), Frank Oswald of the always-informative and entertaining Mental Shavings, asked: “Will the evolving narrative surrounding KONY 2012 do more harm than good for future philanthropists?” And I realized that the Invisible Children situation is very much related to philanthropy.
So what will the impact of the Invisible Children story have on future philanthropists?
I have heard concerns that many of the young supporters of Invisible Children who have been introduced to the concepts of charity through the Kony 2012 video will become disenfranchised about nonprofits due to the controversy. I, for one, am not too concerned about this. I believe it is almost inevitable for philanthropists to lose much of their youthful idealism toward charity as they become more involved.
The more one becomes engaged in nonprofit work, the more one realizes the limitations and issues inherent in philanthropy: donors oftentimes give for selfish reasons, or even unspoken quid-pro-quo considerations; nonprofits have been known to alter their work or deviate from their mission in order to secure larger gifts; the government allows the very wealthy to enjoy additional tax breaks for charitable contributions; and so on. Philanthropy is not a completely pure, altruistic aspect of our society. Nor does it need to be. The very transfer of money from those with it to those who need it is the positive end result of the process. The sometimes ugly aspects of philanthropy are the eggs we must break to the make the proverbial omelet in order to support nonprofits and their worthy mission to address social issues.
Far from having a negative effect on philanthropy, a healthy dose of reality and skepticism can make one a better philanthropist. In the case of Invisible Children, a savvy philanthropist would have checked the group’s financials and realized that less than a third of donations went to on-the-ground support for Uganda before making a gift. Oh the handwringing that would have spared us!
In terms of the impact on philanthropy, the Kony 2012 situation finally provided us with a glimpse at the possibilities and limitations on the use of social media in the nonprofit world. If done properly, social media can be a wonderful way for nonprofits to connect with their donors and constituents. It can help an organization communicate its message through a wide array of media tools, and evoke a sense of urgency and compassion in a way not possible before.
However, social media is also a less reliable means of communications. As we saw with Invisible Children, nonprofits lose control of their message once they communicate it through social media. Strategic communications require a clear, concise message aimed squarely at a specific target audience. But social media opens the door for a much larger audience to seize upon a message and frame it as they see fit, oftentimes in a way that is much different than a nonprofit’s intended purpose. That’s how Invisible Children’s initial target audience of 500,000 turned into 80+ million. Once that happened, they lost control of their message, and opened the door for an avalanche of attention for which they were woefully unprepared. The impact has been devastating for the organization’s image and, potentially, its existence.
In the end, I don’t think the fallout from the Invisible Children situation will have much of an impact on philanthropy or budding philanthropists. Scandal and controversy are par for the course for charities (just ask Komen for the Cure) and the nonprofit world in general. Invisible Children is just the latest example. Seasoned philanthropists have barely batted an eye at the situation, and any disenfranchised young philanthropists would have lost their idealism eventually. If anything, it’s better that it happened sooner than later, and they can now embark on a life of charity rooted in a realistic view of philanthropy.
Kony 2012 is Working Video
Posted on 26 March 2012 | No responses
For those of us in the nonprofit world, a few bits of recent news not only offer up a healthy dose of optimism, but also bring up questions regarding the future of the industry and its role in society.
According to a recent survey by Nonprofit HR Solutions, more than 40% of nonprofits expect to hire additional staff this year. In contrast to the news about job growth in other industries, the nonprofit sector continues to expand and draw employees from other fields. Based on recent hires I’ve seen at numerous nonprofits, especially in development positions, many corporate veterans who are out of work, or disenfranchised by the business world, have looked to the booming nonprofit sector for career opportunities.
But nonprofits are not just offering jobs, they are offering lucrative ones as well. Recent news that the head of development at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center draws a salary of $1.4 million, helps counter a widely-held misconception that nonprofits are unable to provide competitive salaries for top talent. Nonprofits may not be able to compete with the compensation offered by the top financial firms, or promise the salary ceiling of other for-profit industries, but depending on one’s skills and interests, nonprofits can still provide a career option that includes a lucrative salary.
The nonprofit world is also benefitting from new academic programs designed for the industry, with colleges and universities launching graduate programs related to philanthropy, and other educational opportunities for the field.
The result of all of this activity is that the nonprofit world is experiences an influx of educated graduates and experienced corporate workers. Many of these new nonprofit professionals are being drawn to the field not necessarily by the desire to “do good,” but rather by the lure of a lucrative salary and benefits that tend to be superior to those in the for-profit world.
The question remains: how will this affect nonprofits in the future? Organizations are already finding themselves competing for top talent, and seeing their own staff leave for higher-paying positions. What becomes of a nonprofit mission when more of its assets need to be committed to salary? And what happens to the industry at large when leadership positions are increasingly filled by financially ambitious professionals, rather than those committed to concepts in philanthropy?
Only time will tell, but I view the changing nature of the industry optimistically. It seems as if students and other professionals are catching up to the reality of nonprofit work as a rewarding career, both emotionally and financially. The more talent that is drawn to the industry, the better we’ll all be.
Posted on 21 March 2012 | No responses
It’s been a while since we checked in on the world of political philanthropy, but an article today in Politico hints that we are close to finding out just how much Super PACs will influence the upcoming election.
Up until now, Republican Super PACs have been split among the candidates running for their party’s candidacy. Popular opinion has always held that once a candidate is named, the majority of major GOP donors, and Super PACs, will coalesce into one fundraising powerhouse in support. Now, as the republican primary nears its conclusion, it appears as if that will be the case. GOP Super PACs like American Crossroads, and major donors like the Koch brothers, have gone on record that they will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to combat President Obama’s quest for reelection.
On the other side, things don’t look as rosy, as President Obama has failed to line up major donors willing or able to match the deep-pocket supporters for the GOP. Also, the Super PAC in support of the President, Priorities USA Action, has not yet realized the financial windfall it hoped for after President Obama reversed his long-standing opposition to such unlimited, outside support.
For me, this all boils down to the question of whether we’ve entered a new phase of American politics where major donors can sway a presidential election by outspending their partisan opponents. And, if so, what does that say about the nature of our democracy? These questions are coming into focus now, and the next several months will be a fascinating time to observe just how much of an impact philanthropy can truly have on our society.
Posted on 21 March 2012 | No responses
In a move that highlights the inevitable integration of philanthropy and social media, YouTube announced that it is offering free live streaming services to nonprofits.
Like the examples of corporate philanthropy we discussed earlier this week, this move was likely inspired by YouTube’s bottom line rather than their desire to do good (YouTube’s competitor, ustream, has a similar product), but the impact is a positive one nonetheless.
Through lack of resources and dated communications practices, many nonprofits have yet to embrace social media as a tool through which they can reach their donors and prospects. A strong online presence should not be a final goal in itself. However, it needs to be part of a nonprofit’s communications plan as more and more people migrate to social media to learn, discuss, and connect with others regarding the issues that are important to them.
Our society is online, and they are increasingly connected through social media. Nonprofits cannot afford to sit on the sidelines in this respect. They must reach out to their constituents where they are, and communicate with their donors and prospects in the most effective manner possible.
YouTube’s new offering shows how philanthropy is intertwined with other areas of society: nonprofits aren’t utilizing social media enough; YouTube has a way to address that while helping their brand; and the public at large now has another communications channel through which they can connect with the nonprofit world.
If you want to use YouTube’s new service for your nonprofit, here’s the tutorial on how to get started:
Posted on 19 March 2012 | 2 responses
Corporate philanthropy is always a tricky subject. Few are naïve enough to think that corporations are completely altruistic in their giving, and many companies give simply to fulfill corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies rather than from a genuine desire to have a positive impact on their communities.
But does the motivation of a corporate donor really matter if the end result is beneficial to those in need?
Corporate social responsibility continues to face criticisms that it is simply a public-relations ploy for corporations looking to improve their brand image. You know what? That’s largely true. You know what else? It doesn’t matter.
It’s a little overly-idealistic to believe that corporations will suddenly sprout a soul and want to have a positive influence on the world. They are corporations. They exist to make money. That’s what they do. So criticizing them for not being selfless philanthropists doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Do the strings attached with much of this giving make it an ideal philanthropic vehicle? No. But does that mean corporate giving isn’t valuable for nonprofits? Of course not.
AT&T provides a good example of how self-centered CSR can still have a positive impact. Recently the company announced that it would commit $250 million to expand AT&T Aspire, a program started in 2008 to combat America’s high-school dropout rate. The new funding will support programs related to the use of technology in education, an employee mentorship program with high school students, and math and science curriculum in lower-income communities.
It’s not hard to see how these programs could benefit AT&T in the future, but that shouldn’t engender skepticism or criticism of their intentions. In fact, at the very top of the AT&T Aspire website, the company is quite clear that they created this program because “an educated workforce for the future is not only critical to the success of our nation, but to the success of our company as well.” (italics mine).
Cisco is one of many other examples of a company being transparent in its CSR motivations, admitting that its “programs are designed to provide long-term benefits to our employees, customers, shareholders, partners, and individuals in communities around the world.” Notice how customers and shareholders are right there with individuals in the community?
Corporations want to make more money. Everything they do revolve around that goal, even their CSR policies. But that doesn’t mean their money can’t be used to help those in need. Once we stop blaming corporations for not living up to inaccurate images of CSR as altruistic philanthropic vehicles, we can concentrate on working with them to ensure that worthy causes benefit from their giving.