WolfBrown: On Our Minds

With the sensory overload of the holidays in full swing, I was heartened by the success this week of #GivingTuesday, a national day to encourage charitable giving at the start of the holiday season. The initiative began last year when its founder, Henry Timms, Interim Executive Director of NYC’s 92nd Street Y, asked a simple question: “On the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, could we trigger a new day of giving after two days of getting?”

What struck me as refreshing about Timms’ approach was the selfless way in which he set up #GivingTuesday not to be of primary benefit to the 92nd Street Y — a nonprofit organization that relies on philanthropic contributions — but to raise consciousness generally of the societal benefits of charitable activities. The 92nd Street Y has even been careful to brand its involvement in a self-effacing way, with only a small logo at the bottom of #GivingTuesday webpages. By focusing its energies on helping others, the 92nd Street Y is “walking the walk” for the #GivingTuesday core value of giving, rather than getting.

I have often wondered whether nonprofit arts and culture organizations, in spite of inexorable pressure to generate philanthropic support, would be better served in the long run by pleading a little less often for direct contributions and a little more on behalf of others in the communities they serve. In his book Give and Take, Wharton organizational psychology professor Adam Grant contends that “most people operate as either TakersMatchers, or Givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.” Grant’s premise is that Givers (assuming they figure out how to avoid being exploited) are invariably more successful than Takers or Matchers. According to the New York Times, Grant’s research also demonstrates that “helping is not…a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”

So, if “nice guys can finish first” by focusing on service to others, the question is whether nonprofit groups can, too.  If charitable organizations act collectively to raise awareness of the needs of others and encourage contributions that may go elsewhere, would they raise more funds than they can by pushing for end-of-year direct contributions?


Joe Kluger is a Principal in WolfBrown’s Philadelphia office and wishes everyone much health and happiness this holiday season.

4 Responses to “Simple Gifts”

  1. John A in Boston

    Hi Joe,

    In looking for models if giving I’d encourage you to consider these(which you may already know).

    At the Furst Parish UU in Arlington, MA, the offering each week us divided equally between supporting an organization doing work that fits the church mission and direct support for the church operations and good works.

    Another UU church just piloted a reverse offering where five to twenty dollars was placed in many envelopes and distributed to parishioners with encouragement to give the small sums to someone in a manner that would do good and then to share the story if your giving with the church.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Joan Briccetti

    Greetings Joe! Great to see you in St. Louis last June. Nice thought piece; unfortunately too many non-profit organizations aren’t good team players ~ ~ ~. Hope to see you again. Joan

  3. Joe Kluger

    John A in Boston: I am aware that many churches and other religious groups focus their fundraising efforts on service to others. In my experience, however, the percentage of arts and culture groups that follow the example set by the 92nd Street Y in NYC in doing something similar is very low. For every pitch I received on #GivingTuesday – like the Kimmel Center’s push for clothing for the homeless: http://www.kimmelcenter.org/events/?id=4823 – I must have received requests from 50 arts groups begging for money for themselves.

  4. Joe Kluger

    Joan: Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well with you.

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