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Posts tagged ‘philanthropy strategies’

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.

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.

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.


Becoming a bold and impactful giver – some additional seasonal thoughts

December 14th, 2011

Richard Marker

Last evening I had the pleasure of attending the holiday reception of supporters and friends of Bolder Giving, a wonderful initiative encouraging those who may not be 1%ers to think creatively, and to give boldly, to make a difference. The effort has caught the imagination of many, highlighted the exemplary work of a few, and has stimulated healthy discussions quite broadly.

At the event, my colleague Jason Franklin, currently Executive Director of Bolder Giving, challenged us all to articulate what we have each done to model this approach. In the small group with whom I was sitting, some fine and touching examples were shared, and from the buzz elsewhere in the room, I am confident that our group was not the exception.

In the process, I was reminded of two very important, and too often overlooked, ways in which everyone can be a bold philanthropist. And while these thoughts are not new – to me or to many other philanthropy commentators – they can never be repeated often enough, especially at this time of year:
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The Outcome Debate Continues

March 8th, 2010

Richard Marker

I suspect that most readers will not be surprised to learn that I am pleased to see that we in the blogosphere are beginning to see some of my fellow philanthropy bloggers plead for a more balanced and reasonable view of effectiveness measures for non profit success. For the last few years, most of the noise has been from those who push for ever more sophisticated metrics, outcome measures, effectiveness indices, ratios, and the like.

While well intentioned, read together, these attempts at applying some sort of “objectivity” to the grantmaking process and the results by the recipients have often served to straitjacket the process, force unrealistic and frankly meaningless and premature measures on npo’s/ngo’s, and distort the ability to get at what really matters.
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A Plea for Less Guilt Inducing Philanthropy

January 3rd, 2010

Richard Marker

You may think that this posting, my first in the year 2010, written just after the onslaught of end-of-year fundraising requests, is about the tone, content, and timing of those requests for our money. Indeed, one could have an interesting post about that, especially now that much of that previously wasted paper has been replaced by on-line requests which all come from the same script. “A week left”, “only 48 hours left” “last day to….” But I will let others with more expertise on the fundraising and development side tackle that.

No, this posting is addressed to those of us who give money, and those of us who advise people how to do so. What concerns me is that those of us who write about philanthropy are increasingly doing so in a judgmental and guilt inducing manner. The guilt that I speak of here is not the guilt inducing play on deep human sympathies for those in need [who most assuredly need all of our support – although, I daresay we woud help many more if our public advocacy matched our direct contributions].
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