Five fresh perspectives on philanthropy

Ah, the busy fundraising season! We did some searching and surfing this week to offer you several new considerations on your fundraising work and plans for the year ahead. Take a moment with your favorite hot or cold holiday beverage and consider these.

Help those poor, freezing Norwegians. A humorous look at international aid has gone viral just this week: The video is humorous, but there is a serious message. The point is that images of helpless Africans are just as inaccurate as the idea of helpless freezing Norwegians. A lot of Africans cannot relate to all-too-prevalent patronizing videos and development initiatives. The video’s producers cleverly convey that fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes and that media should have more respect in portraying suffering children. “We want to see more nuances,” they write on its website. “We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.”

Tomorrow’s philanthropists, today. An exploding trend in U.S. philanthropy is nurturing children to be donors now; a number of new nonprofits are focused on this important goal. A Huffington Post piece earlier this month from Paul Schmitz outlines  his approach in this process with his own kids.  “My final reflection is that teaching philanthropy should also be about teaching empathy and justice. It should not be a prideful activity, but one that helps kids imagine what life might be like in other circumstances and feel humble about the privileges they have. Yes, they should be proud about their giving, but that pride should ideally translate to more desire to help others and address injustices in our communities, nation, and world. My children are still young so this is still an experiment, but I am hopeful they will continue to grow in their empathy, generosity, and commitment to social justice as they get older,” he writes. See the whole post at

How effectively are you weaving cross-generational donor perspectives into your plans for 2013? A study on the connections between age and donor behavior released earlier this fall reports that younger donors described themselves as much more random and peer motivated in their giving, in contrast to older donors who described themselves as more premeditated. Specifically, younger donors are more likely to support a charity when friends or family ask versus the charity asking them. They consider much of their giving relatively random based upon their emotional reaction to something in the media, or based upon who asks. Older donors have a well established commitment to their primary charities. They have a budget set aside for charitable giving, and know the organizations they plan to give to. This suggests that it is harder for a new charity to break in with older donors, but once you secure them, they are quite committed. Younger donors represent relatively open targets. The best way to reach them is either through inspirational stories in the media or better still, via their friends. Excellent points at

Beyond the stereotypical “ladies bountiful.”  The Center for the Study of Philanthropy at the City University of New York has developed a wealth of undergraduate graduate curricula, television programming, lectures and publications on multicultural philanthropy. This project focused on ten not necessarily mutually exclusive groups: Women, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Latin Americans and Latinos, African-Americans, Europeans, Native Americans, Middle Easterners, and Asians. Exploring the political, social, and economic roles that philanthropy (i.e., the giving of time, money, and/or valuables) has played in enabling each of these groups to broaden opportunities within their communities, the program has strived to redefine popular perceptions of the meaning of philanthropy by moving beyond stereotypical associations with robber barons and middle class “ladies bountiful” to include people of every level of society. The work was originally launched back in 1995 with a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation. Downloadable publications and research at

Is direct mail dead?  In this busy fundraising season, are you still doing what you’ve always done, knowing that it is probably time to change, and hoping that it somehow comes back in style? The key is not to blast your list over and over this month, but to spend the entire year finding ways to use the web to develop substantial relationships with supporters and volunteers — and to encourage those supporters to become spokespeople for the nonprofit groups they support. “It means opening yourself up to volunteers, encouraging them to network, to connect with each other, and yes, even to mutiny. It means giving every one of your professionals a blog and the freedom to use it. It means mixing it up with volunteers so they have something truly at stake,” marketing guru Seth Godin writes. “This is understandably scary for many nonprofits, but I’m not so sure you have a choice.” It’s not a simple either/or as you weigh your efforts through the mail against online media, as  those relationships shouldn’t simply be cultivated online. The organizations that succeed will be those that build relationships and combine both online and offline channels to do it. The truly scary part is that this post originally appeared in 2008. Has your organization truly evolved its approach to blend both traditional appeals with social media relationship-building?


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