There’s a Place for Us

In a prior post, I shared information about 2015 grants we made in the Ford Foundation’s rebooted Philanthropy portfolio. One of the categories was “Engaging More Donors for Social Justice.” What do we mean by that?

In this post, I’ll focus on what kinds of donors we have in mind, and how we’ll approach learning more about them.

We know that generosity is relational, social, and holistic – we don’t compartmentalize the way we help others, we just help: in our families, with our friends, in our neighborhoods. And yet philanthropy is seen as so formalized: foundations, donor-advised funds, giving circles – it seems like someone has to write by-laws and take minutes just to express a simple act of generosity through money in philanthropy-land.

It’s time to break down those walls. We need to reclaim generosity from the philanthropoids. I write this as a card-carrying philanthropoid. (No, really: my business card says: “Program Officer, Philanthropy”.) And part of that reclaiming is understanding how people give, and how they are helped to give. There are bookshelves of treatises on this. I think about it like this:

Who Gives What They Give Who Helps Them Give
Everyday Givers $50 at a time Crowdfunding platformsDirect mail from nonprofits Community foundations
Professionals $500 Giving circles
High-Net-Worth Donors $5,000 Social Venture PartnersBoards of larger nonprofitsCommercial donor-advised funds (Fidelity)
Ultra-High-Net-Worth Donors $50,000 Wealth managers and private banksFamily officesPrivate philanthropy advisors

Of course, these categories aren’t hard and fast. In particular, an individual may move up and down these categories, and just because you have a lot of money doesn’t mean you give a lot (and vice versa). One of my favorite words is “heuristic” – it means a device or tool that helps you organize your thoughts and solve problems. The above is a heuristic, an approximation of reality that hopefully captures some basic truths.

And one of those may be this: While some of the platforms mentioned above (particularly community foundations) serve multiple types of donors, for the most part, where you can give depends on how much you have to give.

So if we want to learn how to get more donors engaged in social justice, we need to understand these different levels of giver, understand the places where they give, and figure out what works for engaging what kinds of donors with social justice.

Why does this matter? Because organizations working on the front lines to disrupt the drivers of inequality are largely starved for resources.

Over the course of this year, we will explore these issues through blogging and convening.

  • On Everyday Givers: We’ll look at whether crowdfunding platforms are good for social-justice organizations; and what crowd-resourcing efforts like ioby can teach us about donor engagement and grassroots leadership.
  • On Professionals: We’ll look at innovative efforts to engage professional donors of color, and learn from what’s come previously.
  • On High-Net-Worth Donors: We’ll look at how the growth of commercial donor-advised funds has affected the type of donor education available and what it’s taught us about donor motivations; and how the Social Venture Partners model has sought to engage this audience.
  • On Ultra-High-Net-Worth Donors: We’ll look at how wealth managers and private banks view their work with donors; and at how donor networks like Solidaire Network and Resource Generation connect people with wealth and class privilege with community organizing and social movements.

By the end of these activities, we’ll hope to have learned more about what types of donors are amenable to social justice, and what techniques work and don’t to help them get there.

As a donor yourself, how do you engage, and where? What platforms do you use to give, and who helps you do so?


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2 Responses to “There’s a Place for Us”

  1. Tony Macklin Says:

    Hi Chris – way overdue on reading through my RSS feeds…

    Your group may need to explore the wide variety of donor service stances in community foundations. Many would say they don’t prioritize helping donors in your lower-gift categories and many don’t welcome hosting giving circles. Small and mid-size ones would love to serve UNHW donors but may not really have the staffing to do so, especially as those donors engage their families.

    And, of course, community foundations are widely varied in how truly welcoming they are to social justice giving, to communities of color, and to authentically engaging marginalized people in decision-making. Perhaps ioby could “infect” the community foundation field with new skills and attitudes :-)


  2. CardonaC Says:

    Absolutely, Tony, it’s a category with a lot of variation. The grid is definitely just a heuristic.

    Thanks for commenting!

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