Posts Tagged ‘types of donors’

There’s a Place for Us

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

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?


Clever Animals

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Peter Singer’s recent NYT op-ed, “Good Charity, Bad Charity,” mounts a significant challenge to business as usual in organized philanthropy. He has no problem saying that certain forms of philanthropic endeavor are just not as important, and deserve less investment, than others.

Singer proposes a thought experiment comparing giving to treat river blindness in developing countries and giving to build the new wing of a museum, calculating (literally) that the former creates 10 times as much value as the former.

“Given this choice, where would $100,000 do the most good?,” Singer asks. “Which expenditure is likely to lead to the bigger improvement in the lives of those affected by it?”

There’s something forbidding about pursuing Singer’s line of reasoning. Where do you stop? How much of your income is enough to give to proven solutions that improve life outcomes for other people? If those exist and you know about them, aren’t you obligated by that knowledge to give as much as possible?

There’s an element of Singer’s thought that I hesitate to mention, because the debate he surfaces is a useful one. It has to do with the relative merit of people and animals. This element surfaces in what he frames as a more difficult question in philanthropy, as opposed to the “easy” one of deciding that preventing trachoma for 1,000 people is 10 times more valuable than building a new wing of a museum that 100,000 people will visit.

“The choice between, say, helping the global poor directly, and helping them, and all future generations, by trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is more difficult,” Singer writes. Okay, climate deniers aside, so far so good.

“So, too, is the choice between helping humans and reducing the vast amount of suffering we inflict on nonhuman animals.” Really? That’s a difficult choice? “Nonhuman animals.” There’s perspective, and then there’s perspective.

In his provocative op-ed on“The Charitable-Industrial Complex,” Peter Buffett says, “I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.” There’s an element of Singer’s thought that might label humanism as “speciesism.” Like I said, here’s something forbidding about following his line of reasoning.

I’ll have more to say about Singer’s challenge to philanthropy, but this facet of it seemed worth mentioning.

Stone Soup

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Whether or not comprehensive immigration reform passes this year – and after this week’s initial reaction by the House Republicans, things are looking less certain – the need for immigrant civic integration is a reality.

Here’s a modest proposal: philanthropy can help by creating and supporting spaces where communities can celebrate traditions of giving across cultures. Mutual aid societies, hometown associations, tithing, potlatch – most if not all cultures have established practices of individual collective giving.

“Everyone is a philanthropist” – and in being so, they draw on a wide variety of traditions. Let’s name those, lift them up, and learn from each other.

I was involved in a giving circle for a number of years that wasn’t culturally based, but I found it worked best as an “onramp” for people new to New York who wanted to learn more about philanthropy and nonprofits.

Community Investment Network is doing really interesting work bringing together leaders from giving circles across the country rooted in communities of color. A number of community foundations have ethnically- or racially-focused giving circles, and certainly women’s funds are popular, as the strength of the Women’s Funding Network attests.

Where I’d like to see this go is as a vehicle for immigrant civic integration at a local level. Philanthropy, community foundations, and other grantmaking public charities can be a venue for communities – both recent immigrants and immigrants from 100, 200, or 400 years ago (not necessarily voluntary…) – to learn about and from each other’s traditions are giving.

A lot of this will be based around faith traditions. As nervous as this may make some progressives, I think it’s a great place to start. Religious traditions can be  a source of social-justice righteousness or daunting fundamentalism. But they’re large and accommodate many points of view. Not saying there won’t be disagreements, but faith just has to be part of the equation. That’s what drives a huge percentage of individual giving, right, isn’t that what we always read about in Giving USA?

So: community foundations, grantmaking charities, and other place-based funders – think about building shared traditions of giving as a means to promote immigrant civic integration. Because whatever happens in Congress, communities across the country are transforming as a result of migration. It’s another moment in a cycle that has repeated throughout the history of this country. Let’s use philanthropy as a way to make this one smoother.


P.S. Congratulations to New American Leaders Project on three years of trailblazing and important work. Missed out by one on being their 1000th “like” on Facebook.

Take the Bait

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

I’m pretty sure that it’s a spam account, but one of my Twitter followers seems to exist to spew out random questions about fundraising and the nonprofit sector, and solicit people to contribute answers. At the risk of further spam, I’ll take the bait and answer a question that showed up in my feed and piqued my interest:

“What if every company were non-profit including Wal-mart?”

My favorite kind of question, one that invites consideration of an alternate reality, in a way that questions the premises of our current reality. Lot of good sci-fi out of that conceit. (RIP Fringe, so good until the last season.)

There are different ways to answer this, but I’ll choose this approach: what if every company, instead of returning value to shareholders, were obligated to reinvest surplus in the mission?

To start with, would all companies be private? Would there be any reason to take a company public? There would if you thought that other people might like to share the risk of ownership with you because they believe in the mission. They might risk losing their money if the business goes belly-up. But wait – how is that any different from receiving donations from individuals? They don’t expect to get a financial return – in essence, they’re sacrificing that money, in return for the hope of social impact. (See last week’s post on the three returns and “third heat” of impact investing.)

Are we just talking about membership organizations, where people pay a certain amount to belong to an institution, like a film society or a museum? No, they’re not assuming any risk for anything other than their own money. Someone has to be accountable for the assets of the organization.

So a public non-profit company would be…just a regular non-profit. What would a private non-profit company be? A foundation? No, those have particular obligations to pay out 5% of their assets. And they’re insulated from market pressures other than on their endowments. A private non-profit company would have owners who would directly assume the risk of failure if expenses exceed revenues to the point where all assets are depleted.  It would have beneficiaries, and purchasers of its services, but only a relatively small number of owners assuming the risk. And they would do so without expecting value returned to them from a surplus.

So this seems to come down to ownership and risk. What’s different about a world where all companies are non-profits is that, at first blush, it’s not clear why anyone would start a company, or try to grow it. But I suspect if we look beyond the profit motive, there would be other reasons to do so. For another post….

Give a Little Bit

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer for that person in your life who asks you for advice about giving during the holidays, since you work in the nonprofit or foundation sector? Want to give a thank-you note to your foundation program officer for helping you keep the lights on? Hoping to fend off that cranky uncle who scoffs that you work in philanthropy because it’s not a real business, and giving money away is easy?

I’ve got a book for you. Giving with Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy, by Colburn Wilbur with Fred Setterberg. (You can find it cheaper on Amazon, but come on, make an expressive choice and buy it from Powell’s, or better yet, ask your local bookstore to order it. I was given a free copy to review, and am honored to have been asked.) Cole is the former executive director of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and one of the grand wise men of philanthropy. (He’s been a senior fellow at the Council on Foundations and is quite active years after his putative retirement.) He was on the board of an organization I used to work for, Hispanics in Philanthropy, but I don’t believe we ever met other than in passing. But I remember hearing a story of how all the men on the HIP board wore Hawaiian shirts to a board meeting held in Hawaii when the Council on Foundations conference back in the day. The image of him – tall, thin, fair, soft-spoken – decked out in a bright shirt with everyone else warmed my heart.

And that unpretentiousness limns every page of this calmly voiced yet passionately argued book. There’s no grandstanding, no real name-dropping, just sage advice delivered in an even and friendly tone, even as he moves the reader gently, gradually, toward considering the advice of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which stakes out positions that make a lot of foundation folks uncomfortable (and good for them for doing so).

What’s great is that the book is pitched to a general audience, but it has nuggets of wisdom for those of us in the philanthropic sector, from someone who’s long labored in those air-conditioned trenches. Such common sense and plain talk.

To individual donors: “On a more mundane level, consult your checkbook and tax records to find out where your donations have actually gone in the past year or two. Fill a page with the amount of each gift and the name of the corresponding organization. Ask yourself: Given what I have, have I given enough? Do my donations jibe with my ambitions? Are there glaring holes in my giving patterns–or are there opportunities shining through?”

To individual donors: “Your contribution, however important, doesn’t make you a member of the starting team. You’re a fan and a booster. Your donation will require staff time to record and manage. Don’t add more than a couple of hours to the burden…. Instead of vocalizing about programs and policies, try asking the organization’s leaders what kind of assistance they need.”

To institutional donors: “Of course, ‘change’ is practically a sacred term in the parlance of grantmaking. (Who brags about their efforts to thwart it?) Yet, the inevitable handmaidens of change–controversy and opposition–are the last things most donors want to inspire.”

To all donors: “Sometimes addressing root causes is crucial. Other times, the symptoms prove so severe that they require immediate attention.”

Blessed common sense, and elegant, limpid prose. Wilbur and Setterberg have given us a gift, and one that’s especially useful this holiday season, when so many people (myself included) make an important number of our personal philanthropic choices. This year, I chose to allocate a significant portion of my giving budget to political giving (fully aware of the non-deductibility of those contributions). I tried to mix expressive and directional gifts. Time to take stock, write down that one page Wilbur and Setterberg recommend, and take stock. I hope you’ll do the same.

Warmest wishes for the holiday season. I’m grateful for another year of professional success and personal growth, and thankful to all who have followed along on this blog.

#Kony #Kony the remix

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Can’t stop thinking about #Kony2012, I’m surprised not to see more about it in the philanthropy blogosphere. Anyway, a few pieces have cleared things up for me. Somewhat.

Communicopia educated me about the work that Invisible Children has been doing over the past eight years to build their constituency that made the video go so viral. Though they appear to have come out of nowhere, IC have actually been slogging in the trenches for years. This article is pure gold, the insight-to-length ratio is off the charts. Go read it.

You’re back? Good. Now, this puts it all into perspective. Girls 13-24 are the ones sending around the video because they’re the ones that IC has been targeting and seeking to empower.

Ethan Zuckerman brought me up to speed on the most thoughtful critiques of IC’s strategy, and they are many and persuasive. Go read that one, too, but wait a minute, because it’ll take a while, and you should especially read the comments, which are bubbling with vitriol. Drama!

Which brings us to Dan Pallotta, who in typical pugnacious style, comes out swinging. A friend pointed out that Jason Russell of IC was going to be on Lawrence O’Donnell, so I DVR’d it. OMG – So. Smarmy. I had a viscerally negative stylistic reaction. I do it myself sometimes, but male upspeak is not a great look for anyone. Again, maybe he’s speaking the language, literally, of the people he works with, but it grated with me. But Pallotta takes it to another level, accusing – particularly in the comments on his post – critics of being jealous of IC’s success. “The criticism is largely based in envy at Invisible Children’s success.” Yeah, that’s gotta be there, but “largely based in envy”? Come on now.

And this gets to one of the things I found troubling in both sets of comments section (Ethan’s and Pallotta’s): the *extreme* thin-skinnedness of IC supporters. Any critique is to be not only repudiated but denounced as mean-spirited, unfair, or futile. “Go fix things in Uganda if you’re so smart” is the essence of one refrain in the comments. Really? The message is that delicate that it needs to be protected from any negativity? It’s one thing to pulsate with the energy of youth, it’s another to quaver with its fragility and, well, insecurity.

But then I watched the actual Kony2012 video. (Except the parts where he explains Kony to his 5-year-old. I find that nauseatingly manipulative, and skipped over those few minutes.) The first several minutes aren’t even about Uganda, or Kony. They’re about this moment in time, about what can be achieved by the many coming together on Facebook. He explicitly talks about this being an experiment, to see if something huge can be achieved. God love ’em, there’s even a visual depiction of a theory of change that’s as clear and simple as I’ve ever seen. (That’s the kind of thing I do all day at work, and I have to say, pace Dan Pallotta, that my emotion on watching it was excitement – there’s a way to do what I do better! Awesome! Let me learn how!)

I for one am really excited to see the first Kony2012 copycats that actually have success. Because that’ll be one of the true measures of impact, is if this does prove a successful experiment, and shows a different way of doing things.

A final note: I also learned from a website I hadn’t heard of before called Talk2Action that Invisible Children is funded by a number of evangelical Christian organizations. Knowing this, seeing the part of the Kony2012 video where the student activists are chanting IC slogans in unison made perfect sense, and also sent a little shiver up my spine. Perhaps it also explains the fervor of some IC defenders in the comments section? (Yes, that was upspeak.) I don’t really know how to parse the intersection of evangelical Christian missionary impulses, social-media wizardry, youthquake mobilization, and working on the front lines of international human rights work. Yet another reason this is fascinating and worth watching as it evolves.

Start Me Up

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

I asked the other day whether there’s a nostalgic mode of philanthropy, and I’m beginning to think that there is (well, there are likely several). I participated in one recently when I gave to the Kickstarter campaign to revive the Parkway Theater in Oakland. The Parkway was a second-run theater near Lake Merritt that served pizza and beer. You could order a pizza at the counter, get a pitcher of beer, take it up to your seat (which was an old couch), and they’d bring you the pizza. Heaven. On. Earth. They showed playoff football games too, and one of my top 5 sports experiences is watching the thrilling, heartbreaking, down-to-the-last-play Titans-Rams Super Bowl in 2001 or whenever it was, on the big screen from one of the couches with pizza and beer. Such a classic neighborhood institution.

The thing is, I haven’t lived in the Bay Area for seven years. It’s been three or four since I last went to the Parkway. But I want to live in a world where the Parkway exists, and others can enjoy the great times I did. (And so I can pop in on a future trip to the Bay Area.) So when I saw the Kickstarter link on someone’s Facebook wall, I clicked and gave my 50 bucks just under the wire.

I haven’t looked what other kinds of projects are on Kickstarter, so I don’t know how many are like “Bring Back the Parkway,” but I wonder if Kickstarter’s success and promise aren’t at least in part because it enables a nostalgic mode of philanthropy.

I’m reminded of campaigns to save TV shows like Jericho or Roswell. Fans get very creative, and once in a great while, they win, and the show gets another chance. Then a mechanism problem kicks in. How to attract enough fans to keep the show going? I wonder if Kickstarter doesn’t answer that question in an indirect way. Like a Groupon for attention – if enough people commit to doing X, the provider will see that it’s worth it. But what would a Groupon for attention look like, how could you commit credibly?

Better minds than mine are working on this in the halls of marketing-landia, I’m sure. But the upshot for funding, particularly of the arts, is that there’s now at least one way to make a nostalgic mode of philanthropy possible. As a hopeful future Parkway patron, I have to believe that’s a good thing.

I’ve Got a Theory

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Continuing from last time about the false dichotomy of service vs. advocacy. Call this one, “Notes for a theory of social investment.”

You have $1,000 of discretionary money. Your bills are paid, your family’s bills are paid, there are no emergencies in your life. You want to make the world a better place. What can you do with that money?

  • You can contribute to a political campaign: I’ve written about fundraising and campaigning before, wondering what it is the political donor gets out of their donation. Part of it in some (many?) cases is a hope that a certain kind of world come into being, or be preserved.
  • You can invest in a big business: put it in the stock market. There are lots of ways to do that. What does that accomplish? It may make you some money, it may lose you some money. Presumably, you help, um, create jobs or something. Keep the economy strong. But it’s all very abstract.
  • You can invest in a small business: you may want to help your local community. You like the local record store, or church, or coffee house. There aren’t good ways to plunk small, private, one-time change into such endeavors. That’s part of the reason why Kickstarter is so interesting; it opens up that space. I put down $50 to reopen the Parkway Theater in Oakland, a Bay Area favorite where I had many a fun time noshing pizza, drinking beer, and watching a movie or an NFL playoff game. I want the Parkway to exist, even if I don’t live in the Bay Area anymore, because I want the kind of world where it exists. So I do my little part. Through Kickstarter, they send me update on how it’s going (no lease yet – come on, Chengs), and I feel satisfied with that investment.
  • You can give to a nonprofit organization: can make a direct difference in people’s lives. But good luck with getting a sense of the difference the organization makes with it (hint: outputs – meals served – aren’t the same as outcomes – kids kept off the street). Good luck getting communications that tell you about the impact. And so many choices, with not many aggregating sites. No mutual funds, like in investing in business – other than things like community foundations, which in this light may be a good option.
  • You can pool your money to give with others: I’m in a giving circle, and my $365 (or so) per year are leveraged into an annual $10,000 grant. Without my part, that doesn’t happen. And it’s very concrete. I see who benefits, and why that matters.

What determines which is the best course for you? Part of it is familiarity, knowing that this menu of options is actually available to it. Part of it may be your comfort level with abstractness. If you want more direct impact, a giving circle, hands-on, may be good for you. If abstract is fine, a political campaign or investing in the stock market may work. But the point is, we don’t have a good sector-agnostic theory for what makes a useful social investment.

Empire State of Mind: What’s the quintessential New York foundation?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Back to the song titles for post titles. Great issue of New York magazine this week, all about what’s the quintessential New York…fill in the blank: athlete, musical, building, TV show, etc. They got panels of celebrities and experts in each area to debate; half the fun was reading people debate what criteria to use – tenure, attitude, level of success, etc.

Which got me thinking, what would be the quintessential New York foundation? Of course there’s the New York Community Trust, but a community foundation is too easy. And New York is such a global city – is it Ford, or Rockefeller, players on the global stage? How about Open Society Institute, featuring a living donor who moves between spheres of influence – finance, politics – in a way that resonates with this town that’s the center of so many things? Is it Bloomberg’s anonymous-but-not-really largesse that until last year was funneled through the Carnegie Corporation? Or is it the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the scrappy upstart carving out a space in the shadow of a big kahuna?* Or the North Star Fund, raising money from the community to give to grassroots, social-justice causes, reminding us of the New York that most of its 8 million people inhabit?

There were two criteria that stood out for me from the New York magazine articles: that when you describe it in a single sentence, you have to use the word “New York” (by that light, Seinfeld is the quintessential New York TV show); and/or that it has to be the best at something (by which criterion Babe Ruth is the ultimate New York athlete). For a New York foundation, I’d say that you want something that captures the grandeur and ambition of the city, the sense of being at the center of it all and yet interested in everything. I’ll cop out for the moment and say that I don’t know that there’s one foundation that really captures that right now. If anything, Cory Booker’s efforts in Newark, funded by Zuckerberg’s $100 million announced on Oprah are more of that scope. Maybe Bloomberg when he rolls out his family foundation after leaving office will have that swagger. Once Jay-Z name-drops a foundation in a remix of “Empire State of Mind,” we’ll have our answer….

*Wow, that was a lot of incompatible images in one sentence.

(Disclosure: the giving circle of which I’m a part, the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund, has had its donor-advised fund housed at both the New York Community Trust and the North Star Fund, and I’ve worked with Ford, Rockefeller, and OSI funding at an intermediary and/or at my current job.)

“Get Off My Lawn” vs. “I Gave at the Office”

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Last week, I developed the idea of needlessly fragile equilibria, states of political balance that are thrown out of whack by false beliefs, which generate unreasonable expectations. Faith in government is one of these, and it’s way out of balance these days.

Jeff Weintraub has a recent post on related issues, “Can democracy work when people are idiots?” It talks about patently false beliefs American voters have about the nature and size of different government expenditures, and how these generate self-contradictory expectations about how to reduce the size of government.

This is related to the idea that people hold unreasonable expectations about their fellow citizens, assuming there are shirkers all about who are leaching off government largesse. You dislike them, and you think the government is either stupid for believing their sob stories or actively complicit in rewarding their shirking. In either case, the needlessly fragile equilibrium of faith in government is thrown out of balance.

How is one’s view of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector affected in such a scenario? Is the problem really the shirking or the public largesse? If it’s the shirking, then you wouldn’t be inclined to give to charity. Call this the “Get Off My Lawn” position: go away taxman, go away charity fundraiser. If the problem is public largesse, and you don’t object to those in need receiving help, but just to having public funds appropriated for that purpose, then you’d probably be generous to charity. Call this the “I Gave at the Office” position: go away taxman, c’mon over charity fundraiser.

For these types of (non)givers, the depersonalized nature of charity in the contemporary world reinforces their positions. If people’s experience of the need for which funds are being raised is arm’s-length, this does nothing to change the (false) beliefs they hold about those in need. Not that that’s any particular charity’s job, necessarily, to change those beliefs, but it points to the role philanthropy can sometimes play in a democratic society. Done a certain way, it reinforces the needless fragility of the equilibrium of faith in government.

What might be another way? Tomorrow, I’ll consider some alternatives, in the context of the “season of giving” that’s coming upon us.