Walking the Walk
December 3, 2009 § 1 Comment
In a recent blog post, Seth Godin challenged nonprofit professionals to put their money where their mouth is. If you work for a charitable organization, if you don’t give, why are you in that line of work?
Whether it’s a charitable gift or a volunteer shift, those of us who work in nonprofits, especially those of us who have more administrative duties keeping us away from the front lines, should get in the trenches on occasion. It is a matter of responsibility, as well as staying in touch with why we do the work that we do.
Clean Your Plate: People Are Hungry
November 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
New USDA published the latest statistics on food insecurity on November 16, reporting that 49 million people are struggling with hunger in the United States. At Feeding America where I work, we were expecting the numbers to be bad, but we found them shocking.
Since then, there have been numerous articles about how people are coping with the recession, including an article in today’s New York Times about food stamps.
Many have observed the paradox of hunger and obesity in this country, and a recent study shows that as much as 40% of the food produced in this country is thrown out.
When I was growing up, I remember making fun of my elders saying that we needed to clean our plates because there were children starving in Africa. Now I find myself overcome with guilt if I don’t finish everything on my plate, or if I throw anything away in my refrigerator.
This issue touches every facet of my life, personally, professionally, and spiritually. My spouse, Gillian, talks about being a good garde manger in the kitchen, the person who stocks the pantry and makes sure that the food is rotated and used efficiently and economically, making sure not to waste anything.
As I approach my work in philanthropy supporting hunger relief, and as I make my own personal choices about food and sustainability, I’m going to strive to be a better garde manger at home, and do my part to help get food to my hungry neighbors.
May 17, 2009 § Leave a comment
Forbes recently published an article positing the question of whether or not the age of “conspicuous philanthropy” was coming to an end. Citing a trend in anonymous giving, author Judith Dobrzynski asks whether having a donor’s name in lights with a big naming gift may be a thing of the past.
Some people are motivated to give by the promise of having their name up in lights, naming a building or a scholarship in their honor, that would remain for generations. From the institution’s point of view, naming opportunities is good stewardship. It gives the donor the chance to see concretely how their dollars make a difference in the community, as well as honoring the donor’s generosity.
In my view, philanthropy is a responsibility, like the concept of tithing, and people should give as much as they are able to the causes they believe in. Even so, in our culture philanthropy is a choice, and those of in the business offundraising know that the gift has to give something to the donor. If making the gift doesn’t generate positive feelings, then there’s no motivation for the donor.
Philanthropy is always motivated by emotions and what is going to make us feel better about ourselves. Whether it is shame, love, jealousy, or good old-fashioned egotism, I think that deep down people understand that public philanthropy (call it conspicuous if you like) is simply modeling good behavior.
One of my former employers, a large, presigious university, organized a series of fundraising dinners at the homes of volunteers. These were initimate gatherings of classmates, no more than ten couples, where the host would give a presentation about the campaign. At the end of the talk, they disclose to their friends the gift they were pleding, and what influenced their decision.
At that point, the friends around the table felt compelled to also pledge, wheter it was out of competition, love for the school, or responsibility. The actions of the donors and volunteers were able to personally tap into the emotions that influenced further philanthropy from their social circle. This model had tremendous success during that campaign, cultivating new donors and volunteers for the institution.
While the age of the mega-gifts may be coming to an end, or at least a significant slow-down, I hope that anonymous giving is not a trend that will take hold. Especially in these exceptional times, philanthropists should lead by example and continue to give generously and conspicuously.