WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Posts tagged ‘philanthropy’

Simple Gifts

December 5th, 2013

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.

Whenever I work with a nonprofit board on major gift fundraising, I intone the First Axiom of Resource DevelopmentFundraising is not about asking for money; it is about building relationships. I also present Laura’s CorollaryThese relationships are built on mutual passions, reflecting (1) the personal experiences of the board member and the funding prospect; (2) the societal issue(s) being addressed; and (3) the nonprofit’s mission. An “ask” should be an opportunity for the donor to express deeply felt connections to the cause in question and to feel like an agent of change. In my experience, if donors don’t see a gift as an opportunity for self-fulfillment (and, admittedly sometimes self-aggrandizement), they don’t write much of a check, if any at all.

I was introduced recently to the idea of a “Jeffersonian Dinner,” a donor cultivation model that addresses the three elements of Laura’s Corollary — beginning with personal experience, then connecting that experience to the larger trends and challenges in society, and then exploring the role of the nonprofit organization in addressing those challenges. The Generosity Network website lays out the advantages of this approach: A Jeffersonian dinner “enlists new allies…. helps to create and disseminate ideas…. expands attendees’ networks…. and spreads knowledge about and interest in your organization.”

Here’s how it works: A dinner host invites eight to 12 people with diverse expertise, interests, experience, and networks. Each invitee provides a brief biography, which is sent to the group in advance along with a “starter question.” The question is designed to elicit personal stories relating to the topic of the dinner. For example, if the dinner is focused on the role of museums in K-12 education, the question might be, “Tell us about a childhood experience in a museum that had an impact on your life, and why.” A moderator manages the conversation, which moves from personal stories to their connection with larger interests of the group around the topic, and then to the work of the nonprofit, how the organization could further its mission, and attendees’ interests in following up on the discussion.

The dinner echoes the purposeful nature of Jefferson’s own gatherings and follows his rules for dinner guests at Monticello: only one conversation at the table — no one presents, no one monopolizes, no side conversations, and everyone participates. I have not yet had an opportunity to work with a client to try a Jeffersonian dinner, but the model is building its track record and enthusiastic practitioners. I would be interested to hear from any readers of this edition of On Our Minds who have convened such a gathering.


Laura Lewis Mandeles has been with WolfBrown for more than 20 years in the Washington, DC area office. She has led numerous strategic planning processes for cultural organizations of all types, and provides a range of resource development services, including feasibility studies, development assessments, fund-raising counsel, and case development.

Accountability…transparency…openness in communication… These are “buzz words” today in many sectors, both for-profit and nonprofit and the Foundation Center has offered a service to the nonprofit sector that provides all of this – and more – about leading foundations in America.  They call this service Glasspockets.  I visited the site and was astonished at what they have done.  They have identified 22 measures of transparency and accountability, and they have already collected information of all of these measures for 15 major foundations.  See their report on The Rockefeller Foundation, for example.  Glasspockets also provides key information on Web 2.0 communication tools (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn) that foundations are now using to increase their transparency to the public.  The immediacy of communication on the web provides us all with information that used to be nearly impossible to get.  Sometimes I find it overwhelming.


I haven’t found a nonprofit administrator or development professional yet who isn’t concerned about the Obama administration’s ongoing desire to limit the tax deductions for charitable contributions.  I worry along with them that at the upper levels, especially, giving will be more expensive and therefore will decrease.  I recently came across a March 2009 brief from the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy that examined this issue by looking at historical tax data.  I found their conclusion interesting but not entirely comforting: “In looking at charitable giving at a national level, changes in personal income and changes in wealth play a larger role overall in shaping charitable giving than do changes in tax rates. Changes in tax rates matter in the short-term, the year before they take effect and the year they are implemented.”  The brief, How Changes in Tax Rates Might Affect Itemized Charitable Deductions, estimates perhaps a two percent decrease in contributions overall from a tax rate change.  But, of course, that would come on top of the other challenges that they measure.  They also caution that their conclusion is based on one year of data (2006), and acknowledge that longer term changes  would require analysis of multiple years of donor behavior.  So, I’m still worried.


Pepsi Refresh Project

March 4th, 2010

Personally, I prefer Diet Coke to Diet Pepsi.  But, an exciting new grant program from Pepsi is causing me to reconsider.  The Pepsi Refresh Project is giving away $1.3 million every month through January 2011 to individuals and organizations that develop innovative programs which have a positive impact on their communities.  What is unique – at least for now – about the Pepsi initiative is the way it uses the empowering principles of social media technology to determine grant awards.  Other corporations – including Western Union, Microsoft, Target, and J.P. Morgan Chase – have occasionally used interactive technology to solicit applications and user recommendations for corporate contributions.  Pepsi has taken the concept further, by leveraging its resources with the democratic principles of such user controlled philanthropy incubator sites as kickstarter.comchipin.com, and kiva.org.  Pepsi accepts grants in six categories (Arts and Culture, Health, Food and Shelter, The Planet, Neighborhoods, Education) and awards several in each category at the end of each month, based on the number of votes submitted for each application by members of the public.  In these challenging times, it is nice to see a company spend over $15 million on a program to improve its corporate image, which also provides resources that support good causes.  While the Pepsi project will quickly become very competitive and not solve any one organization’s financial problem, the real value of this innovative project would be if their use of social media principles had a viral impact on other corporate, foundation, and government grant making processes.


Diversity of Donors

July 27th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what motivates donors to give to the arts, and how their giving patterns relate to their core values – both inside and outside of the arts. In partnership with Helicon Collaborative, we are currently working on a study on donor motivations and values for The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) and East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), and have recently been engaged to survey San Francisco Symphony donors. As part of this TSFF/EBCF study, we facilitated an intensive donor interviewing exercise with a number of small community arts groups and individual artists who are recipients of matching funds through the Fund For Artists initiative, a program of both foundations. Key learnings from these interviews shed light on the deep meaning that small gifts hold for many donors, when they believe that their gift makes a difference. It was also interesting to note that the donors’ most important values often lie outside of the arts (e.g., social justice, the environment), and that arts projects that tap into these value systems were successful in raising funds from individuals who do not normally support the arts. Perhaps by stepping back to ask the bigger questions about what is important to donors, we can better understand the diversity and breadth of their interests and communicate with them more effectively. The report from this study will be released at the end of the year.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy is causing a stir with its new publication Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best. The premise of the report, stated in the Executive Summary, is that “Current philanthropic practice accomplishes many beneficial things, but it’s insufficient to play the substantive role needed to solve the urgent problems facing our nation and the world. Grantmakers simply aren’t delivering as much social benefit as they could.” NCRP proposes four criteria, Values, Effectiveness, Ethics, and Commitment, and then challenges foundations to realize these values by working toward ten specific benchmarks. The benchmarks describe grantmaking that many of our nonprofit clients yearn for – including more multi-year grants and operating support, as well as six percent minimum payout, mission-related investment of the foundation corpus, and greater support of low-income and otherwise marginalized communities and more support of advocacy and civic engagement. But not everyone is in agreement on all points laid out in the publication. Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a countervailing view in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that donor intent may be quite different from philanthropic purposes suggested by NCRP, but yet may still be quite worthwhile and effective.

The Bernard Madoff scandal is shaking the foundation world. Every day I read about another charity, philanthropist, or foundation that has been irreparably wounded by this fraud. Follow the link above to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which has collected coverage by several newspapers around the country to demonstrate the scope of the impact. The world of Jewish philanthropy has been particularly hard hit, of course, because of Madoff’s personal relationships with Jewish donors. See how Madoff-related losses are affecting the Jewish community in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

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