Nonprofit Periscope

Keeping an eye on news of the sector

When philanthropy turns passive

with one comment

I’m doing a bang-up job on my New Year’s resolution so far.  Just like I resolved, I’m donating X amount of my income to charity each month.  I have a handful of my favorite nonprofits, from the local to the international, and they get money from me every month to employ homeless people in Seattle and woman survivors of war in Bosnia, and to protect civil liberties and abused animals and the environment.  My life is good.  I have more than I need.  So I can afford to give back and still pay my grad school loans.

And thanks to direct debit, I automated it all.  A certain day comes and poof! my money goes forth to do good.  That’s how I know I’m on target.  There’s no other option.  I have to do literally nothing each month (except not lose my job) and my favorite nonprofits get my donations.

It’s so easy. And it’s so passive.

Dan Pallotta has a new post on passive philanthropy, a must-read for fundraisers and philanthropists alike.  He bemoans the “least-you-can-do” attitude of many nonprofits, which divvy up donors into major gifts (often above the $50k level) and…everyone else.  Like me.  Guess which group gets most of the attention from the development staff.  And by attention, I mean cultivation and opportunity to make a difference for nonprofits and their missions.

Dan (who I realize I wrote about recently as well, but the man knows his stuff) points out that letting the “everyone else” group of donors get away with the least they can do not only lets down nonprofits, but also fails to tap into the potential of these donors.  His story about pushing young donors to give more than they (or I) would think themselves capable of struck a chord in me.  If someone asked me to give $5,000 to a group and cause I’m passionate about, would I whip out my checkbook?  Probably not.  But the thought of such an opportunity thrills me. Being able to give so much is a privilege.  Being asked is an honor.  And actually considering it is only a little crazy.

Which leaves me feeling even more bereft and restless about my automated monthly contributions.  I used to scoff at the idea of throwing money at a problem, and now I’m doing it. As a fundraiser myself, no less. For shame, I know.

So how do I break out of this quicksand of passivity? Give more? I can’t. At least, not if I want to pay my loans and feed the cat (and myself) and put gas in the car and maintain my addiction to Cheerios.  Do I stop giving and start volunteering? I don’t have enough hours in the week for all the groups I give to.

The closest I can come to a solution is that I should keep up on what’s happening with my chosen nonprofits–read their literature, attend their events, tell my friends and family why I give to them, maybe blog and tweet about them (for what it’s worth).  Maybe I’m less cut out to be a philanthropist than an evangelist.

If you’re a fundraiser, how do you connect with your non-major donors?  If you’re a non-major donor, how do you fight the seduction of passive philanthropy?

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Written by eclawson

March 1, 2010 at 9:47 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. Elizabeth, giving money on rote doesn’t make you a passive philanthropist. You blog about philanthropy. You work in the sector. You are living and breathing proof that you care about our society and its problems each and every day. That makes you worthy of being called an uber philanthropist! 🙂

    Elaine Fogel

    March 7, 2010 at 12:04 PM


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