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Posts tagged ‘philanthropy behavior’

Philanthropy is NOT a popularity contest

September 12th, 2012

Richard Marker

This is a follow-up to our recent posting on funder motivation, and our discovery of the surprising cynicism about philanthropic behavior we discovered while in Copenhagen. [I recommend that you take a look at that before proceeding with this post.] A number of comments to me have made it clear that, in at least one important area, this suspicion is not restricted to that one Nordic country, and frankly has significant validity.

Several folks both there and on this side of the pond told me how offensive they find the recent practice of popularity as a basis for philanthropic giving. There are several variations on the theme but there are two versions which seem to inspire this kind of reaction:

1. Asking for voters to choose among a limited number of pre-selected recipients. Typically, these votes are turnstile numbers: whoever can get the most numbers, regardless of the number of individuals, wins. Thus, if an ngo or nfp can get their followers or friends of followers or their followers to “vote” for them every day during the selection process, they can win. [Reminds me of my days in Chicago when the election mantra, repeated humorously, was “vote early and often.”] Anyone can vote and anyone can vote as often as they wish.

Skeptics rightly point out that popularity is not the same as quality. Popularity may reward the clever, the more astute at social networking, or the tenacity of followers. By itself it says very little about the worthiness of the cause. Yet we have seen otherwise quite respectable organizational leaders constantly post, friend, link, etc to influence this voting behavior. Their own motivation is understandable. They want their organization to benefit from the ultimate success of a financial windfall, and en passant, to get their visibility score as high as possible. But one wonders whether the funder, the one actually providing the funds, is not simply deflecting a decision. And to enact a surface transparency. After all, they can say, we had no smoke-filled closed-door insider decisions but left it open to the public. What can be more transparent than that?

2. Corporations which designate a limited number of famous recipient organizations which will receive a portion of a certain purchase or participate in a marketing survey. Most purchasers see this for what it usually is: thinly disguised marketing. After all, a pre-screening process typically rules out any grantees which might ruffle any feathers; they are already big, well-known, and have extensive marketing efforts. That they are big and well-known doesn’t make them less worthy, simply less dependent on this kind of incremental philanthropy.

More importantly, there is rarely any evidence of any meaningful commitment to those groups or causes beyond the distribution of the funds raised through this advertising effort. We, and they, know the difference between serious CSR involvement and merely serving as an accounting pass-through. Of course, CSR itself can sometimes only be a form of green-washing, but it usually includes some sort of ongoing and strategic involvement with a cause with the hope that there is at least a double, and occasionally a triple bottom-line benefit. Popularity pass-throughs don’t rise to that level.

Some of you will be quick to point out that the kind of philanthropy practiced in the USA is already a popularity contest. Whoever has an appeal, brochure, video, benefit, solicitor better than a competitor gets more money. We acknowledge that it takes care and thought to make decisions among causes and organizations, and in fact, many are worth supporting. More than most of us can afford. What is wrong with following our friends and our hearts? You may ask, why is this new method any different?

There is, to me, a difference. Organizations seeking money may do whatever they can to make their case in a highly competitive environment as long as they observe ethics and truth in advertising. They have every right to compete. But we should expect more from funders. We funders should model careful giving, be able to demonstrate why we have made the choices we have among many worthy causes, and be unafraid of the less popular. Our long-term credibility requires that we not fall into this latest fad and deflect making decisions or involvement to those who happen to garner clicks. Individuals may do whatever they wish; those of us who model philanthropic giving behavior should do better.

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.


Donor Motivation and Donor Intent

February 19th, 2012

Richard Marker

It happened again.

On the flight back from last week’s Council on Foundations Family Foundations conference in Miami Beach, I found myself sitting next to a financially successful real estate person. When he found out what I do, he lost no time in indulging 2 predictable topics familiar to those of us on the giving side of the philanthropy table: first, and not the topic for this posting, he solicited me for a pet charity. At least twice.

Second, he expressed his cynicism that people really ever give for altruistic reasons. He told me the story of a recent solicitation for a well known public charity which totally turned him off. [Admittedly, there was a generational disconnect which explained the story but that was more evident to me than to him, and also not the subject of this post] He then launched into a challenge about why, really, do people give to charity. Ego, taxes, public recognition were high on his list; doing good was pretty low.

What I find is that those who ask that question are rarely active or generous funders themselves. They, at least many, indulge that line of reasoning, i suspect, to create a self justifying smokescreen for their own reluctance to give. Or they are finance related folks who measure success by the bottom line of what one has, not by what one gives.

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How Philanthropy Taught Me to Embrace Failure – A Precondition to Success

November 27th, 2011

Richard Marker

Typically, I find that I, as with many of my colleagues who write about philanthropy, extrapolate from personal experience to develop insights into good grantmaking strategies, ethics, and impact. This time, however, the reverse is true: after years of grantmaking, and teaching about grantmaking, I have learned very important things about myself.

The issue: the value of failure.
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How one organization blew it – the view from this side

June 24th, 2009

Richard Marker

This is not an unprecedented story but is a worthwhile morality tale for non-profit fundraisers. To ruffle as few feathers as possible, I won’t name names.

I was recently honored by being elected Chair of an organization that has a very distinctive mission. There are a few other organizations with compatible but not identical missions and in a collegial manner, I extended a hand to the heads of several.

The President of one of those organizations – one that does a fine job in its sphere – sent an email congratulating me and suggested that the member of their staff responsible for the areas of overlapping interest would soon be in touch to discuss mutual opportunities. The organization I now chair is neither a fundraising nor fund distributing organization, so the possible avenues for collaboration could only be built on mutuality of interest.

Sure enough, a personally addressed envelope arrived from that organization within a couple of days. That wasn’t unusual – a number of congratulatory letters were arriving around that time. However, upon opening this one, I found neither a personal letter nor any reference to the previous communication. Rather, it was a fund raising request.
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