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Posts tagged ‘Philanthropy’

New Year’s Eve Procrastinators and New Year’s Strategists

January 2nd, 2017

Richard Marker

Whew! The end of the year solicitation onslaught is over. It is safe to look at your email again – and even to open some of your snail mail. If an end of the year contribution was on your agenda, you have made sure it was paypal-ed or stamped by Saturday evening. Time to return to more contemplative and plan-ful philanthropy.

I am not an expert in fundraising at all but I have to assume that all of those solicitations work – at least for some. Do they persuade people who otherwise wouldn’t give or just provide that last-minute oomph to procrastinators? I am not sure.

What I do know is that around this time of year, because of what I do professionally, people often ask me why people give. If I listen to the question carefully, I usually see that there is an underlying bias by the person who asks: some are absolutely sure that a “tax deduction” is the driver. Others are convinced that guilt is a prime motivator. Fewer want to credit pure altruism. This year, a lot of folks believe that political fears are yielding more advocacy funding than ever. Social pressure to “give back” is often suggested, raising the question whether those funders would give at all if their peers weren’t giving as well. Among younger funders, “making a difference” surely is a major motivator. And, let’s not forget the insights from our friend and colleague, Jenny Santi, whose research demonstrated that giving can be a source of happiness.

Fortunately, our role is never to persuade someone to give; everyone with whom we work is already a “giver.” Our role is only to help them make good, ethical, and wise decisions. However, what we do know about giving motivation is that reductionism – that is looking for a single motivator – is wrong. No one’s philanthropic behavior can be reduced to a single cause. We are all complex beings, all of us, and it belittles the significance of philanthropy to try to reduce any individual’s giving to only one rationale.

However, when we work with funders and foundations, all of these reasons do come into play – not in whether to give but in making decisions where and how to give. When giving itself is no longer the question, knowing what will prove gratifying is. Sometimes that will determine recipients; more often it will determine how a grant or gift or contract is structured, what intended outcomes are to be, and what relationship a funder or foundation wishes to have with recipients of their funds.

In this context, self-awareness matters a lot, especially if there are family or board decisions. Knowing why one is drawn to or is averse to a particular request may have nothing to do with the legitimacy of the request or even how compelling it is, but everything to do with whether that proposal will align with our giving culture or style. And that culture or style is very much influenced by underlying values and attitudes toward the proper role of philanthropy or government, what we think is the essential nature of human beings, one’s relationship to peer groups, and more. None of these is necessarily more legitimate than another, but knowing what comprises our own drivers, and understanding the complex motivations of those around our giving table may make all the difference in how we end up feeling about the funding decisions we make.

And, as clients and students of ours can attest, that applies whether our giving reflects New Year’s Eve procrastination or New Year strategies.

I don’t believe in NextGen!

May 24th, 2013

Richard Marker

Long time readers or those who have heard me speak are fully aware of my position on this. But at a couple of recent gatherings, a number of younger funders told me that they had never heard anyone take this position. Time to say it once more.

I don’t believe in NextGen!

Surely, you say, I jest. After all, it is pretty well-known that I work with, advise, mentor, and teach younger funders. Indeed, it is one of the priorities of my professional work and volunteer roles. I have advised many foundations on inter-generational issues, and lecture about the transformational issues which emphasize the centrality of those in their twenties, thirties, and forties.

So, how can it be that I don’t believe in “NextGen”? Let me count the ways:

1. NextGen too easily implies that one is not yet worthy to sit at the grown-up table. In many cases, that is pure nonsense. What it often really means is that the “grown-up” table isn’t ready for younger members to sit with them to make real decisions and engage in constructive deliberation.

After all, many 20’s and 30’s and 40’s! have graduate degrees, have responsible professional positions, are raising families, have started new companies or organizations, and in every other way participate as full-fledged communal or societal members. But in the non-profit realm or at the philanthropy table, someone has decided that they are the NEXT generation – not yet ready.

This was brought home to me very vividly a few years ago when I spoke at the annual meeting of the top leadership of an internationally respected non-profit. Among the distinguished ‘young” leadership they honored at that time were a 50-year-old retiree and a 48-year-old mayor. Seems that they were more than “grown up” in the rest of the world, but still relegated to the kids’ table in this group of superannuated veteran leaders.

2. NextGen too often assumes that one must speak a different language or only with and to those of one’s own age group. That is, to my mind, patronizing.

Now don’t misunderstand: in my work as an advisor to families and foundations, I often advocate that there is a time when it is crucial that generations meet only among themselves. But that is a structural question – not an age question. In today’s families, third and fourth generations can span a lot of decades.

Moreover, as one who is himself a 3rd gen in my later 60’s, I have a lot in common with many who are 30 years younger than I, and a lot in common with their parents. Which room should folks like me be relegated to?

To be sure, there is education, world experience, career aspiration, and age appropriate angst more characteristic for those of each age. But we need to be careful not to assume that age must be the only primary defining category. [See #1 above.]

In addition, why shouldn’t interweaving of ages be a normal and even constructive part of life? Mirele and I regularly invite people of all ages to our home. We are enriched by a normalized conversation among those of differing ages, backgrounds, interests, etc. All too often, others tell us that they only socialize with their contemporaries and are surprised by the diversity of folks whom they meet when they are our guests. Nothing wrong with having friendships with contemporaries, but it is so refreshing to have friendships that are not limited to homogeneity or propinquity [ask your local sociologist!]

3. Too often, NextGen is nothing more than a marketing tool. An organization wants to show that it appeals to or is bringing in the young folks. Using this term is a way to demonstrate that they “get it”, are committed to new modes of expressions [but rarely their models of community], values their participation [but rarely their values], and are bridging the generational divide. Some organizations really do get it and are appropriately re-inventing themselves; far too many others, though, simply confuse branding with substance. Declaring that you are NextGen friendly doesn’t make it so.

4. Most important of all: NextGen really is THIS generation. The world has changed. Our categories have changed. Our daily experiences have changed. How we get information, communicate, create communities, pay bills, educate ourselves is owned and mastered by those who have come of age in the last 15 years. As I said and wrote over a dozen years ago, those of us above a certain age are “guests in this century.” It is we older folks who are on the margins. Much as it hurts me to say it [and I work hard to keep it from being totally true], we are LASTGen. And while my peers may still control much of the money, the daily behaviors and decisions of the generations younger than we really are deciding what the world, including the world of philanthropy, does and will look like.

My issue then, as you can see, is the term NextGen itself. All too often foundations and other non-profits use the term and programs to avoid coming to grips with the real transformations that a changing world should mandate. I suspect that many of those called NextGen say to themselves [to quote a one time Broadway lyric]: “Don’t talk of love; show me – now!”

All giving is self-serving – or so they told us

September 11th, 2012

Richard Marker

Last week was a great week for us. We had a wonderful time speaking to and teaching a group of Danish foundations. Much of that was made even more delightful because of the setting for most of the sessions – a harbor-view conference room at the Royal Playhouse. And it ended with the kind of conclusion one always hopes for – we were asked to return.

We learned a lot about the distinctive character of foundations in Denmark and it was certainly mutually productive to explore together what parts of Danish grantmaking is culturally specific and what parts generic. This kind of exploration is always one of the most interesting components of the work we do with funders around the world.

What we did not expect, though, was the almost universal cynicism and distrust we encountered among those whom we saw socially outside of our work. [We had met most of them before] They found our mission in Copenhagen incomprehensible. Almost to a person, they could not believe in the authenticity of the altruism of any funder. [They had no idea whom we were speaking to or working with. As always, we did not disclose who the participants were; that level of discretion is sacrosanct.] Invariably, we were asked if our work was to make the wealthy feel guilty so that they would give more [that was easy – we don’t do fundraising and anyone who comes to us is already committed to being philanthropic], or to show them how they can get the most ego satisfaction out of the visibility of their giving [very, very rarely]. That an individual or a corporation might indeed have positive reasons for having decided to give of their resources was summarily dismissed, and, if we offered counter arguments, we were considered naive.

It is, to be sure, very difficult to ascertain any single motivation for the decision to be philanthropic. Many studies have explored this question in-depth – a number of reasons surface but rarely does it reduce to a simple single explanation. That a giver may experience a sense of satisfaction while doing something to improve the world is very typical. As one who has worked with many hundreds of funders, I would be very hard pressed to know which part of that sentence is primary: the gratification part or doing something good for the world part. And that doesn’t include influencing family and others, giving back, noblesse oblige, making a difference, and, yes, on some tertiary level in some countries, to benefit from favorable tax treatment. And others reasons as well.

But rarely have we experienced such a consistent cynicism on donor motivation. It struck us as strange since it is well documented that Scandinavian voluntarism ranks quite high. Was it because a society with a social commitment to the welfare of all looks with suspicion on any concentration of wealth by a few? Was it that public giving is simply at odds with a society which respects quiet discretion? Were there some recent embarrassing episodes which gave philanthropy a bad name? [The only example mentioned by many had to do with the behavior of the late Mr. Maersk in his gift of an opera house. In much of the world, his hands-on generosity would be considered quite normal.] Is it because many of the largest and most visible Danish foundations are corporate and the belief that no corporation can truly be committed to anything other than its own bottom line? Perhaps it is because there is little required transparency in the legal system so it might appear as if foundations are self-serving.

In our variety of social gatherings, there was no new argument we had never heard before. Hearing them all, with so little respect or admiration for philanthropic generosity, was quite new.

In every part of the world, some sort of philanthropy, charity, generosity, and voluntarism is endemic and organic to a culture. Even in Denmark. Why, we wondered, was the cynicism about that philanthropy, charity, generosity, and voluntarism at a higher and more articulated level than we have experienced before? We’d welcome your thoughts.

Charitable Deductions – the debate continues

March 15th, 2012

Richard Marker

Ah, the wages of sin.  In this case, the sin of over-dosing on networking sites; perusing my “groups” on Linked-In.  I joined a discussion on one of the philanthropy sites after I happened upon a growing group of complaints about the proposed cap on charitable deductions.  The group, if I read their profiles correctly, all seemed to be fundraisers, and they all were different degrees aggrieved at this terrible pending injustice.  They seemed, histrionically to my mind, to anticipate the inevitable discouragement of millions of dollars in charitable giving from those most able to afford it.

I couldn’t help myself so I weighed in on the other side.  It didn’t take long before i was attacked –  but, let it be said, unlike in some other such discourses i have found myself in,  it never descended into the personal.  And I do want to be fair: at a time when the public benefit/non-profit sector has been profoundly challenged from every direction for several years, it doesn’t take much for skittishness to overcome objectivity.  Nevertheless, since the complaints had a hyperbolic tone to them, I think it is important to return the conversation to what any change might really mean:

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Forbes, 9 March 2012

March 11th, 2012

Richard Marker


Rahim Kanani, Contributor
3/09/2012 @ 4:03PM

Philanthropy Expert Richard Marker on What Every Donor Needs to Know

In a recent interview with Richard Marker of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, we discussed lessons that every funder must internalize, challenges and opportunities facing today’s donor community, and much more.

Richard Marker is co-principal of Wise Philanthropy™, a firm that includes: Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy AdvisorsThe Wise Philanthropy Institute, and Green Strides Consulting.

Richard Marker, an internationally known expert on philanthropy is the Founder of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education. The Academy is the oldest and most comprehensive university program teaching funders and philanthropists in the United States. In February 2007, he was recognized with the NYU Excellence in Teaching Award.

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The for-profit public-benefit dilemma

March 1st, 2012

Richard Marker

For the last few years, whenever I have spoken to graduate students in public policy or business, it is quite evident that there is a pretty clear belief that there is a better way to solve social ills. If it is possible to create a for-profit incentive which would feed, cure, heal, house, or educate, that has to be better than the existing predominate model – the ngo or nfp model.

They aren’t the only ones.  States are falling over themselves passing one or another form of L3C’s or other hybrid models – as if to say, we want to take the lead in endorsing and enabling this better way of thinking.

And there are websites, linked-in groups, and assertive advocates who are true believers.

One can sympathize with this trend. Wouldn’t it be great if one could indeed take advantage of private capital markets to reach scale, indulge self-interested investors, and at the same time do what decades of non profits could not do.  Why not do well by doing good, and do good by doing well at the same time?  In the current environment of widespread cynicism, it is an approach which by-passes government run programs and legitimates self interest.  And, if correct, it allows long-term sustainability which does not depend on non-profit type fundraising.

Some of the models have had some success.  Micro-lending, until it became overwhelmed by those financial institutions who saw this as easy money, had a record of making a real difference. Kiva, while technically an indirect method, appeals to those who want to play in this world but have more limited means.  Some of the early investors in renewable energy were ahead of the curve and did indeed outpace the market for a period of time.  And there are more.

The question remains, though, if these private models are themselves sustainable – as models of solving the resistant problems of humankind.  Efficient  and private food resources have still required SNAP or the UN in order to make food available efficiently and affordably to the embarrassingly large number of hungry.  Genuine renewable energy systems are still niche players when faced with entrenched lobbying interests in the carbon fuel industry.  There is little evidence that private universities are educating folks better or more efficiently than the public-non-profit system that exists – despite its unwieldiness.

More pointedly, many of the newer models have not yet faced the challenges of when private financial interests compete or conflict with public interest.  Advocates on both sides of this are quite vocal, but as one who has no skin in the game, I have yet to be persuaded.

Thus the question for the readers:

Are hybrid models simply the latest fad, only a small portion of which will achieve the desired impact, scale, and sustainable results to make a difference OR are hybrid models the true 21st Century innovation which will correct for the broken, or at least inadequate, system of solving deep seated and pervasive human needs and want?  Before weighing in further on this myself, I welcome your thoughts.


I almost was a hypocrite yesterday: the modest nobility of taxes

December 23rd, 2011

Richard Marker

The real point of this posting is the last paragraph, but first:

Let me start out by saying that Mirele and I pay our taxes. And as folks with lots of legitimate deductions, we have had occasion to prove that to the IRS – and they too agree that we pay our taxes. We are far from being 1%ers, but even we benefit from the very large loopholes afforded to the self-employed, mortgage payers, and charity donors. My guess is that an aggressive CPA could show us even more, but we use those that the tax prep software identifies, and that is probably enough.

In fact it is an honor to pay taxes. Not fun, but it is how we fulfill our noble obligation to support a society with lots of needy, lots of needs, and lots of insufficiently met obligations. I confess that there is always a sense of accomplishment or relief when we don’t have to write a check for underpayment every April, but my belief is that most of us pay too little toward our own well-being. Given the choice of privatizing social security or more taxes, I would pay more taxes; given the choice of additional deterioration in our educational system or more taxes, I would pay more taxes; given the choice between a bankrupt FEMA [as we sadly saw] or more taxes, I would pay more taxes; given the choice between more homeless and hungry or more taxes, I would pay more taxes.
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Words and Style Matter – Some thoughts for the season

November 30th, 2011

Richard Marker

At a recent philanthropy conference, I had a chat with two folks charged with actualizing new family foundations which had very similar charges. In both cases, the founder had a left a message that conservation causes should be supported, but environmental ones should not.

What made life difficult for these two heirs was not merely the standard challenge of deciding which of the many legitimate entities should be funded by their family foundations, but how to honor the clear intent of the funder who gave inherently conflicting messages.
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Innovation or Transformation

September 23rd, 2011

Richard Marker

I hate to say it, but “innovation” has become faddish. I suspect most readers know this, if not directly, then intuitively.

It is too bad because much of the public interest sector is still in need of innovation and not simply rebranding. Some truly get what innovation is all about. These folks fully understand that it means both new ways of looking at things and new ways of doing things.

Many, however, still think that a Linked-In connection or having Twitter followers demonstrates how innovative they are. These folks confuse new media with new understandings. As I wrote a few years ago, if the underlying message is the same, all the new branding and social networking does not demonstrate innovation at all. Don’t be surprised if very little changes at those organizations.
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What grantseekers should know – through the eyes of a grantmaker

September 12th, 2011

Richard Marker

This blog is typically written for those of us who are funders, work with funders, or work for funders. That is whom I work with and whom I teach.

However, I was flattered to learn recently that some fundraisers regularly read these posts as well – in part to get insights into the perspective of those whom they wish to solicit.

As it happens, a few times each year, I am asked to speak to organizations or fund raiser groups – to tell what it is like from this side. This piece shares a few thoughts on what it looks like on our end. Over the years, I have learned that some of what you are about to read runs counter to what fundraisers are taught. I hate to burst the bubble, but…
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