About Philanthropy 451

Thoughts on Philanthropy by Lisa Greer, author of Philanthropy Revolution

The Temperature at Which Money Burns

Philanthropy is in trouble. For two decades, the number of Americans who give to charities has been steadily declining -- older donors are dying, and Millennials, Gen Xers, and most people under 70 are walking away. Why? Donating to charities feels onerous, dehumanizing, disrespectful, manipulative, and just exhausting.

Leaders, volunteers, and donors at the 1.5 million charitable organizations in America, as well as instructors at hundreds of nonprofit management programs, know the prospective donors they need to attract crave organic connection and impactful collaboration. Yet many of these leaders hold on to techniques that turn off younger donors: gala dinners, wasteful, manipulative lunches, and a style of communication meant to keep would-be activists ignorant and happy.

This needs to change, or thousands of worthwhile causes will be gone within a decade.

Confessions of a Frustrated Donor

Most every day I get at least one call or email from someone soliciting money from me. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s low-key to the point of being completely lame (this is the moment where I wonder why I’m spending precious life moments reading or listening to them.)

Sometimes I listen because the person is really, really trying, because I want to be supportive.  Other times, it’s just not worth continuing.  Why, with all the money sunk into hiring, supporting, and training fundraisers for non-profits, are so many of them so lacking in good sense, sophistication, or sensitivity?  And, on the other end, are the donors so scary or unpleasant that the fundraiser is panic-stricken at the reality of having to actually speak to one of them? 

This newsletter is my way of sharing my dismay and frustration when dealing with development execs/fundraisers.  On one hand, I truly want well-meaning, impactful charities to succeed, but on the other hand, I find myself wanting to run screaming from the room when I have to speak or interact with yet another fundraiser.  Yes, many of them are terrific and highly professional – but they’re few and far between. Most are either nervous and self-conscious and frightened, or they’re pompous, arrogant, condescending, and sycophantic. Why?

I know that other donors – most, if not all of them – feel the same way.  Sharing the mistakes, annoyances, and stories of stupidity that donors put up with just might help fundraisers do better.  Most donors don’t want to take the time to voice this, so most non-profits don’t have a clue as to how donors really feel. So I’m going to put it all out there so that non-profits and fundraisers can learn, and so that other donors can feel that they’re not alone in their frustration. 

Finally, I’m going to highlight bad behavior by non-profits AND by donors. It’s important for all of us to understand that the future success of non-profits depends on mutual trust.  We need to learn from the bad actor stories - that they got to be bad actors because of the system that allows (and often condones) their behavior.

Forcing Things to Change

I want to bring my perspective as a donor to the millions of people who work in or with charitable organizations.

We need to “wake up” pretty much everyone involved in fundraising to the hard fact that there continues to be a downward trend in the number of people who give to charities, and that trend will have disastrous consequences if there isn’t a fundamental change in how donors and fundraisers interact. 

Wait and see? Nope. I am taking matters into my own hands.

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Welcome to Philanthropy 451, a weekly newsletter with my thoughts on the state of the nonprofit industry, including anecdotes, statistics, and helpful recommendations. I'm Lisa Greer and I'm obsessed with Saving Giving.