Spread the Good

The reaction to the Dan Pallotta TED talk has been cause for hope and frustration: Hope, as people begin to accept philanthropy as we have known it is broken; frustration, with so many defending the past for fear of an unknown future.

Reading the back-and-forth about Pallotta’s presentation I’m reminded of the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen becomes so fed up with a person in line pontificating about Marshall McLuhan’s work he brings McLuhan out of the shadows to confront the man.

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For all the people believing Pallotta is off track (and his rocker) I give you the opinion of a well-known philanthropist:

“We need to better comprehend this environment and learn how to participate in it. The arts are slow at developing donors online, where much fundraising now happens. We have been slow to attract the new money—the hedge fund and social-media crowds, the new inheritors of wealth. We need these people in the arts, but we are not getting their attention. Large amounts of money are going into donor-advised funds; we scarcely know how to reach those funds. We are late adapters of social media, of the interactive ways of dealing that are now common among the young.

As fundraisers, we are not good at collaborating; we argue for one symphony or one dance company or one museum at a time—without appealing for the arts as a whole, significant sector in American life. And as institutions we haven’t learned to combine tasks, to find common ways of solving problems, to enlist new thinkers in our business.

We are trying to do business as usual, when—in fact—the usual is gone. There is a new usual. We need to make it work for the arts. Without the arts, we would be people without inspiration, without ideas, without ideals. That’s why successful fundraising for the arts in the new economy is essential.”

Agnes Gund – Philanthropist

This was written in July of last year. You can take out the word “arts” and replace it with any sector of philanthropy. Thank you, Ms. Gund, for giving voice to what is on the minds of so many of your fellow philanthropists, and many people who are trying to do good better. In this case it is the messenger, not the medium, that matters.

P.S. For Woody fans here is the whole scene - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXJ8tKRlW3E


  • Ms. Gund makes some good points, particularly about “new money.” BUT…I have worked in the visual arts and the performing arts and they tend to share a common counterproductive mindset: believing that asking Individuals for money is “not quite nice,” and not respecting development as a knowledge-based profession. So instead of bringing in seasoned professionals from other sectors, they often staff their development offices with failed artists. While passion is an indispensable component of fundraising, it is the trustees, other volunteer solicitors and the CEO who must be passionate. (I am a most passionate fella, but I have known many extraordinary development professionals who are low key to the extreme.)

    Social media is more suited for public relations than raising money. As regards fundraising, figure out how many $50 gifts it takes to raise $1 million. Yup, that would be 20,000! We are all surrounded by millionaires. There are about 9 million of them in the US (granted more in some places than others) and that averages out to 180,000 per state. Don’t tell me there are no large prospects in your neck of the woods.

    Social media fundraising is utilizing a shotgun approach, and you don’t bag big game with a shotgun. First you plan your trip (building a development plan), then you track and stalk your game (prospect research followed by cultivation using Moves Management), finally you use a high powered rifle when the moment arrives (send your organization’s Big Dogs to do the solicitation, i.e. “The Committee hopes you will JOIN ME at the million dollar level). It works at the Y, at the Symphony, at Harvard, and yes, even at Choate!)

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone by using a hunting analogy to make my point. (It all started with the shotgun/rifle analogy.) In point of fact, I believe what we do is help donors participate in something wonderful, to give their lives some fulfillment, and that we are courting them not hunting them. It should always be a joyous excursion!

  • Susan Daily

    I have to say that this article, although clever – and I do enjoy this universal Woody Allen scene – has nothing to do with either the TED talk or the issues raised. If it did, it would be talking about the bogus rationalization that “the lower the overhead, the more deserving the charity” or the nonprofit culture of voluntary and involuntary poverty imposed on both organizations and fundraisers. With all due respect, criticizing the sector for some other failings – not talking about “the arts” collectively but having a narrow pitch for ones own organization – not cultivating hedge fund millionaires or jumping on the social media bandwagon – substitutes one set of critiques for another and doesn’t get us far in discussing either.

    I also agree with Doug. The problem is that you need to first develop relationships with people who know the people with the financial capacity to get in the door.

    I have some problems with Pallotta as well, but he didn’t say what your philanthopist said. He was talking about structure and systemic dysfunction that he attributes to thinking nonprofits are charities. My unvarnished reaction to this article is “If you know hedge fund managers who are interested in helping the homeless (or arts or anything else) we could sure use your help, since they aren’t living next door to me.” Cute film clip, controversial and compelling headline, not much of a connection between this discussion and the other. But that’s just me. IMHO.

    • Thank you for your comments Susan. I appreciate what you are saying. For me the most important point Ms. Gund made was this “We are trying to do business as usual, when—in fact—the usual is gone.” Ms. Gund used social media and hedge fund wealth as examples, not as the definitive list. You can add young wealth, women of wealth (especially self-made), immigrant wealth, and minority wealth to the list of people who have to almost beg to be properly cultivated. Pallotta did come at the problem from a different perspective, one that I completely agree with and did a post about recently – https://www.workingphilanthropy.com/2013/04/07/cost-of-fundraising-is-the-kryptonite-of-philanthropy/.

      As for relationships, rest assured I understand that is the key to it all. I have spent my whole career finding, profiling, and keeping an eye on philanthropists for organizations of all sizes in every sector. This summer I am part of The Donor Retention Bootcamp and a major theme is building a culture of philanthropy that fosters the kind of relationships that last. What I am trying to do is help strip away the excuses for not addressing the core problems by presenting as many perspectives as possible. Eventually people run out of reasons not to try something new.

      Glad you enjoyed the Woody clip, and thanks again for being part of the conversation.

  • I don’t want to denigrate any of the discussion, however, I would like to point out that if you want to get the new money to give to the arts you first have to get them to the shows, exhibitions, concerts. Then and only then, you can begin developing relationships with them. Perhaps Agnes Gund addresses this challenge elsewhere?

  • Michael Evers

    Folks, I’ve been in this field for 30 years now. Can any of the other long timers here tell me what’s new about what’s being said here — except for the existence of the Internet as a new fundraising channel? And before that it was telephone, and before that direct mail, etc.?

    Also, the comment about why don’t we raise money for “the Arts” rather than specific arts organizations is simply silly. “The Arts” doesn’t spend money, specific arts organizations do. The same can be said for any other field of philanthropy.

    Here’s a daring suggestion. Maybe all of these “breakthrough” philanthropists might want consider selecting someone from the religious tradition with which they are most comfortable and look up what they have to say about the importance of humility. Now THAT would be a breakthrough.

    • I would take a look at Ms. Gund’s background before going to far with the “I have been in this field..” line of attack. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/agnes-gund/. I would say she has earned her right to speak about the arts. She also brings social media, not just online fundraising into the picture. She also brings up the very real problem of not connecting with younger donors, and new wealth.

      While her focus is on the arts, I highlighted her comments because they could be said of any other sector in the field. Ask universities how they are doing with younger alums, and whether they have figured out social media.

      As for her comment about raising money for the arts, she is highlighting the need for collaboration and the need to re-sell the arts to a new generation. Joining forces to make this happen is something that every sector would benefit from. I work with colleges and universities who are struggling to make the case for education because alums want to give where “the rubber meets the road” rather than to an institution. This has forced schools to make the connection between what they teach and the problems of society. That is not something they had to do with the GI or Silent generations.

      As a fellow lifer in the sector, I appreciate you joining the conversation.

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