In the beginning there was a need and someone met it using their own time and resources. Then the need grew and became too much for one person, so they enlisted the time and resources of others. Out of all this activity was born a mission which served as the foundation for an organization to manage all of the time and resources. And so was born philanthropy.
At some point it was decided a person needed to spend all of their time asking more people for more and more of their time and resources. And so the fundraiser was born. It was also when philanthropy began a long slow march away from its mission.
Merriam-Webster defines philanthropy as:
1: goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially:active effort to promote human welfare
2 a : an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes
b : an organization distributing or supported by funds set aside for humanitarian purposes
Notice there is no mention of fundraising. It is about giving, not getting. Now at this point you might be saying, “We have to have fundraisers because without them there is no money for our mission.” I absolutely agree with you. Saying you don’t need fundraisers is like a for-profit company saying it does not need sales and marketing, but if fundraising becomes the tail that wags the dog an organization begins to follow its tail instead of its heart.
When you think of Starbucks do you focus on how much they spend to get you in the door or on what happens once you have entered? As you enjoy your caramel macchiato are you pondering how much of the cost was based on marketing expenditures?
When donors think of their gifts to a charity do they spend time thinking of how much it cost to take that money from them or do they think of the good that will be done with their money? We would like to think they focus on the good, but all of the talk these days seems to be about the money.
The focus on fundraising has led to a hollowing out of philanthropy to the point where an organization reaching a monetary goal has supplanted what is done with the money. No wonder donor retention is plummeting. If it’s just about filling the thermometer to the top why not fill a different one each year or just not do it at all.
Well-meaning watch-dog organizations spend a lot of time figuring out the cost-per-dollar raised; yet these watch dogs spend little or no time calculating the good-per-dollar spent. The good-per-dollar spent calculus would have nailed the veterans groups for not doing much if any good. It would also reward those organizations who may have a high cost-per-dollar raised, but are extremely effective at doing good.
What makes all of this so sad, and maddening, is that philanthropy has the one thing for-profit companies want more than anything – a good story. Starbucks spends a lot of money creating the illusion of a coffee house in Italy. A human being in pain, hungry, homeless or in need of an education is not an illusion. Each is a story people want to hear, a story in which they can be the hero.
Fundraising is a necessary part of philanthropy, but it in no way should define philanthropy any more than the marketing and sales department at Apple defines their products. Fundraisers would do well to heed the words of Steve Jobs from his bio:
“The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company…..when the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off.”
Jobs knew that people want to do business with companies that create good products. These same people want to support organizations that are good at meeting their missions.
Getting back to the mission-centered roots of philanthropy is just one of the topics we will be covering at The Donor Retention Bootcamp July 31 – August 2nd in Tampa, Florida. It is an experiential conference designed for fundraisers and leaders who want to create a culture of philanthropy at their organizations and institutions. Combine a strong mission with a strong culture of philanthropy and your organization will be wagging its tail.