A recent article in The Boston Globe, “Why We Give to Charity,” cautioned potential givers not to think or let their brains get in the way. We all know how technology has revolutionized accessibility to information and learning opportunities. Regardless, the structural nature of the philanthropic sector is different than that of the private or government sectors. While the article was a thoughtful examination of today’s nonprofit landscape, the interpretation and results of two academic studies highlighted in the article suggested that donors thought too much about his or her donation decision might decide not to donate at all.
Those of us working in the philanthropic sector, as well as others who are passionate and committed to effective giving and positive social change, think that the article may have misinterpreted the problem and thus the solution. Technology and information is powerful but it does not facilitate change or become knowledge until it is packaged and presented in a meaningful, useful, and applicable way. In other words, design and clarity is pivotal to engagement and ultimately growing philanthropy and effective giving. As Lisa Vesterlund at the University of Pittsburgh explained in the article, it is indulging the appetite and impulse of giving by “putting carrots closer at hand than a chocolate bar.” It is at this crucial crossroad, where philanthropic professionals, technology, experienced charitable givers, and other intermediaries can play a game-changing role in charitable giving whether the donation is $25, $250, or $25,000.
As one example, consider the recent research findings about charitable giving and donor behavior conducted by GuideStar and Hope Consulting. This research found that if intermediaries or nonprofits will provide the right information in the design and where donors want it, donors are willing to give more and in a more effective way. Essentially, using their brain to understand the effectiveness and impact of the nonprofit’s work AND giving more. Bottom line: Achieving both goals of growing philanthropy and giving to effective nonprofits.
Your letter to the editor seems biased based solely on Guidestar’s mission to be the keeper of nonprofit information. Though Guidestar is a good service it rarely leads the way in increasing philanthropy. I think both you and the Boston Globe should meet in the middle on this. They did not say that potential givers should not think. What they said was that donors should not think too much. Their concern, with which I agree, that we not take the heart out of donating but have a balance of information equal to the good feeling we get as donors. Donating, though altruistic, is also selfish. We know that people give to causes about which they care, about which they have had experience with the cause, the issue or the disease. Giving is almost always fulfilling a personal agenda which may include advancing particular causes or supporting other friends, family and colleagues that give to a charity or a cause. We also should not move donors to a point where they have to pour through data to get a quick overview of the organization. What is lacking with Guidestar, Charity Navigator and other so called watchdogs is that you have no ability to provide effectiveness ratings. Donors want to know their gifts are of value. Donors want to know if their gifts are advancing a mission. Providing financial data has caused alarm with some donors as organizations like Charity Navigator, focus on the amount of administration. The administration factors are rarely explained and do not take into account that often nonprofits rely mostly on people, paid staff and volunteers, that create their own overhead. So, in a large majority of cases, administrative costs are essential in fulfilling the mission. There are many great organizations who have gone out of service simply because they couldn’t pay the overhead. That is tragic.
Head, heart and soul must be balanced for good donors to continue to give. Donors must be acknowledged and informed as how the organization overall is doing in solving problems or fulfilling a mission. Their hearts still must be in it, and in times of great need or disaster, impulse giving is still effective and needed. When there is a Tsunami in Japan, an earthquake in Haiti or devastation in Joplin, MO, I like many other donors simply want to help. We are either going to give to a known organization or some organization recommended by others.
That’s how we give. That’s how we should give. Stop studying donor patterns and listen to their hearts. Americans are the most generous people on earth. Giving is a big part of our receiving and we cannot intellectualize this form of spirituality.
I concur with Mr. McSorley. Blaise Pascal said it best, “The heart has reasons, reason knows not of…” Let us hope and pray that giving in and of itself is the most loving and spiritual act of mankind, not simply the most intelligent one.
A philanthropist IS planted inside each of us by our Creator, God. It does not require intellectual wizardry, the tax law or large sums of wealth to be defined a philanthropist in the eyes of our Maker. How remarkable is God’s wisdom in the definition of philanthropy…for the love of humanity. Have you ever caught the Wizard of Oz conversation when the Wizard (Frank Morgan) is actually trying to pronounce the word Philanthropy to the Tin Man?
If philanthropy is genuinely for the love of man, it is from and of God as is the perfected balance of truth and grace demonstrated by God’s only Son, Jesus.
When Vision360 receives a charitable gift we realize we have not only been given a sum of money. We have been entrusted with its use for the love of man.
Let individuals and families who deem themselves to be philanthropists to give cheerfully, generously and without greed for that sums up philanthropy and giving God designed with utmost wisdom. These scriptures attest to His word: Malachi 3:10-18, Romans 13:8-10, 2 Corin.9:6-15
Office of Philanthropy
Please please help us identify how much is given that does not bring about systemic change. We are an ecumenical order of War Widows who use their nonprofit to provide educational (business ownership) studies to Wounded Warriors Incarcerated.
All of our ministry is volunteerism – and we so need more educators to help us design videos that the Veterans can study -
Any assistance so so appreciated -
Mary Murphy, former VA/Prison Chaplain/Marshal Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals
303 238 1456
5388 W 40th Ave
Wheat Ridge CO 80212-7230
John l4:12 “Because you believe in Me (TRUTH) greater works will you do than I for I go to My Father”
- Lori Larson
Tom, thank you for reading the Trust blog and sharing your thoughts and comments. I wholeheartedly agree with you that “head, heart and soul must be balanced” in giving. Providing a great donor experience will help to increase philanthropy and charitable giving. If you haven’t seen it, our president just blogged about the importance of generosity: http://ceo.guidestar.org/2011/12/28/what-i-learned-talking-to-more-than-30-reporters-in-a-month.
I respectfully disagree with you that GuideStar’s mission is “to be the keeper of nonprofit information.” On the contrary, we share nonprofit information through many websites, through intermediaries, and other digital or communication channels. Although the mission of GuideStar has not changed over time, our strategy and how we strive to achieve our mission has changed. Through our products and services, partnerships and collaborations, GuideStar collects, organizes, distributes, and presents information on mission based organizations. We are committed to promoting the critically important work and the vital role that an active and innovative philanthropic sector plays in our economy, culture and our democracy. Our organizations must adapt to the needs of the philanthropic marketplace for sustainability.
Your thoughts about eliminating the need for donors “to pour through data” and presenting a way for donors to quickly and simply “know if their gifts are of value…. and are advancing a mission” is critical to donor engagement. We know through research that engagement facilitates charitable giving. Again, it’s about the donor experience. We also agree with you about the need to “provide effectiveness ratings.” In December, we launched a newly designed nonprofit report page that includes an attribute of “Evidence of Impact”: http://www2.guidestar.org/organizations/54-1774039/guidestar-usa.aspx. If you have not seen the new design, I hope you will take a few minutes to review it and share your thoughts with us. Our landmark Money for Good II research (http://www2.guidestar.org/rxa/news/articles/2011/results-of-money-for-good-2.aspx) was a major facilitator of this new design, in addition to our customers and partnerships. Demonstrating impact and effectiveness is vitally important to the evolution of the nonprofit sector. Although it is difficult, we must try and continually improve and adapt with what creates value and meaning to increase charitable giving. Our newest products and services, such as Philanthropedia, GiveWell, Root Cause, and DonorEdge- http://www2.guidestar.org/rxg/about-us/donoredge/index.aspx – (for community foundations) reflect that strategy.
Thank you again for your comments. We value and appreciate your thoughtful and candid feedback and hope you will continue to dialogue with us.