I was raising money for a symphony orchestra in Ohio when Ronald Reagan gutted the National Endowment for the Arts, somewhere during the 1980s.
Good for me (career-wise); bad for the country.
I was new to philanthropy in those days, both professionally and personally. I had started into the fundraising field as a part-time Assistant to the Director at a battered woman’s shelter while I finished writing my master’s thesis. It soon became apparent that the assistance the director needed most was fund raising.
Philanthropy was new to me personally too. I’d grown up the only child of a single mom who worked for a labor union (i.e., Democrat) and money was a scarce resource in our home back in the ’50s and ’60s. I certainly never saw my mother give any away.
Come the ‘70s, living in a midwestern ‘burb, the wife of a Republican businessman (is that redundant?), I still never thought about giving money away.
But once it became my job to raise money for nonprofits, I quickly came to understand the importance of what fundraisers affectionately call “unrestricted operating income” from individuals. Most organizations would crumble if everyday people, generally with a checking account, stopped giving.
By 1984 I was at my second fundraising job, Development Director for a Metropolitan Orchestra. My first full-time job, I took to it with gusto, joining the local fundraisers’ professional organization, subscribing to the journals that publish the research, and even reading it. Yes, there are people who research this stuff.
There was data on how to get the receiver to open the envelope. At least there was back then.
You’d think we in the U.S. might be #1 in charitable giving. But, this map, Place in the world giving index, from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAFonline.org) says differently:
The Americas are on the left, Europe and Africa in the center, and Asia and Australia to the right.
Some day I’d like to write more (i.e., learn more) about how various internal structures of a country affect its philanthropy. Do capitalist countries give more than socialist countries? Do countries with a strong safety net give less than countries without one? Do countries with higher GNP give more than poorer countries? I can think of a number of hypotheses that would be fun to follow. But, alas . . .
I say this by way of introduction to today’s topic: Philanthropy
More specifically, the culture of philanthropy. How does one create a culture that enables philanthropy? How important is it? Are there specific steps one can take to increase a culture of philanthropy within the average American family?
Throughout our history, we’ve had Andrew Carnegie, multiple Rockefellers and Fords, and now Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in current times. But from where did the idea of expecting relatively small checks from many individuals hatch? And when?
According to my own anecdotal investigation, the vast majority of people who give today are descended from people who gave yesterday. It’s a learned behavior, a duty one adopts early on from those around you. You don’t think about it much; you just do it. In other words, it’s cultural.
But what if you didn’t come out of that culture?
Can you teach philanthropy?
I don’t mean in the “like teaching math” sense of teaching it. I mean it in the “how do we pass along the value of philanthropy to a new generation?” sense of the word.
And so, in honor of what I hope will become an annual “It’s Time to Ante Up the Contribution Dollar” post, I give you the Four Steps to Adapting a Philanthropic Mindset (for those of us not born into such a tribe).
1. Believe that charitable giving is a noble and worthy endeavor.
Giving is the acknowledgment that in order for certain things to happen in the world you inhabit, you need to participate. You need to take a stand, be counted, raise your hand, say “Here I am.” It is the belief that however small your gift, it matters. Because you matter.
2. Aspire to become part of something larger than yourself and your small tribe.
Contributing gives the opportunity to be part of something larger than your initial circle. It’s the chance to expand your reach. And, we mustn’t forget, if the organization thanks you appropriately, it lets you rub elbows with others of similar ilk.
3. Identify the organizations that further the values you hold and support them.
Here’s where you begin to speak out (click here for the recent post on Speaking Out with Your Checkbook). And, here’s where the organization has a responsibility to you. They need to make it easy to give to them: Click here. Use the enclosed envelope. Make your check out this way.
You, too, have a responsibility: to do your homework. Which organization will you choose? How will you choose?
4. Learn as much as you can about how the organization functions.
There is nothing worse than a disgruntled, resentful donor. (Well, I’m sure there are many things worse; but at the moment, none others come to mind.) You want to feel good about your giving, feel that you are making a difference, no matter how small.
Don’t forget to use Charity Navigator, the organization I mentioned in last week’s post, How I Chose, that does impressive things with data on 8,359 charitable organizations. Use them to help you decide.
Four steps: Believe, Aspire, Identify, Learn.
Unfortunately (or maybe not) you could make BAIL from these four. Surely there’s a joke there.
What’s your relationship with philanthropic giving? Was it modeled for you as a child growing up? Or have you followed a different path?
NEXT: It’s Survey Monkey time. I’ll be posting my proposed new mission statement in a week, and using Survey Monkey (link will be provided) once again to get your feedback. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and fill out this very short, anonymous, questionnaire.
Click here for the PAPERBACK and eBook versions.
Amazon makes it easy. And, you can always order it from your local independent bookstore.
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