redux plus
October 13, 2013

attending the dan pallotta talk was like hearing his TED talk live with additional icing on the cake in the form of a lot more statistics. that’s how it felt. it was good to review the points he makes. they still make sense. he’s a very professional speaker, but he seemed weary. and he was peddling his books, uncharitable and the new charity case.

i was reminded of the the sobering facts that charity is a measly 2% of the GDP (gross domestic product) and of that 2% only 20% of it goes to health and human services. this seems a gross failing of our priorities and values as a people and a country. the question is why?

pallotta’s answer is to let philanthropy use the methods and tactics that make capitalism successful, to shift old ways of thinking about non-profits such as, overhead steals from the cause  and the moral superiority of using less to fundraise to capitalist thinking such as, incentivizing success and using marketing and advertising to increase the market demand for more philanthropy.

i don’t know if this, “using what works” from capitalism is the right fix. but i do know that the most important statement pallotta made was this, when you don’t permit failure you kill innovation. its time we permit ourselves as donors and givers and our non-profits to try new ways of achieving philanthropy with permission not to get it right all the time.

morality vs. frugality
August 27, 2013

In his TED talk, dan pollotta makes a distinction in philanthropy between frugality and morality. the bottom line: they aren’t equal. pallotta says too often donors want to see the organizations they give to behaving in fiscally frugal ways. the reasoning goes that the less a non-profit spends on everything other than direct service the better (read more trustworthy, honest, high minded) the organization. in other words many donors do equate frugality with morality.

do you?

i can honestly say i was influenced by my upbringing to believe in general frugality is a superior trait and one to aspire to. such a world view has definitely affected my perspectives and actions. i admit to having made moral judgments about others based in large part on their spending habits. and i’ve been hypocritical enough not to count some very lavish spenders I know as less moral.

but less isn’t always more. the true bottom line for non-profits is impact. and by chaining donations to both organizations and individuals to the measure of their frugality is often short sighted.

maybe you think someone who needs financial assistance shouldn’t be spending money on an iphone or a taxi. maybe that’s because you think you know better than they do about being smart with your money. maybe that means you feel superior or judgmental or that you only want to give to people who subscribe to your world view.

sure you have that right. but take a moment to think about how your assumptions limit you. can you recall a time your actions were judged by someone who didn’t have all the information and criticized your values? what would it be like to give money to someone for whom frugality wasn’t a strong value?

gestures
July 4, 2013

my daughter belongs to a teen youth group. they meet once a week and also go on several trips over the year. the trips, which can involve  plane flights and hotels, are heavily subsidized. Even so, sometimes we can’t afford to send her without a further scholarship which the group always grants us graciously.

as parents we couldn’t be more grateful for this youth group. our daughter is having a great time in a safe environment. she gets to take fun trips that we can’t take as a whole family. we’re indebted to this youth group.

so every year, we make a donation. we write them a check for a piddling amount of money, not even $50.

why bother?

we do it because we want them to know we appreciate what they provide
we do it because something is better than nothing
we do it because even if we can’ always pay our way, we can at least add to the donors list when that number matters in their annual report and fundraising efforts
we do it because we would be ashamed not to

it’s a gesture. it has zero impact on their bottom line. one could even argue it’s self-centered on our part. nevertheless it matters to the organization, because we’re recognizing what they’re doing for our daughter as best we can. we’re saying what you do matters and thank you.

what is the value of a gesture?

why we think like we do
May 4, 2013

in his fascinating TED talk, dan pallotta offers the following take on the origins of our american perspective on giving.

pallota believes our ideology comes from Puritan beliefs. he explains that although we commonly learn Puritans came to America for the sake of religious freedom that they also came to make $. pallaota claims Puritans were really aggressive capitalists. this presented them with a dilemma. their self-interest (capitalist tendencies) would lead to eternal damnation. to reconcile these two contradictory values they turned to charity. they could do penance for their capitalist self-interest at 5% on the dollar. so charity developed out of a desire for  (and as a means of) doing  penance, not as a method (or a desire)  to help the less fortunate or solve social problems.

framed this way, it’s easy to see why there can exist an inherent conflict in the act of giving as we have come to understand it. it would, in fact make sense that our philanthropy puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable, so to speak.

what would it look like and how would it feel to step out of this giving legacy?