photo credit: © Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Reframing Philanthropy

How many people hold back from giving because they think they can’t make a difference?

I attended a board of directors retreat for a nonprofit client this past weekend. I’ve been with this nonprofit for several years now, first as an employee and now as a consultant. I’m also a donor. I’ve worked with all levels of staff and with board members over the years. I know the history. The ups and downs. The challenges. The vision. The things that always seem to stall no matter the level of effort.

My role at this retreat was to make a presentation on the digital marketing strategies for the agency and illustrate how the board members could contribute by spreading its messages. Simple enough. To me, sharing the stories of causes one believes in is an easy way to give back. When you share, you have the opportunity to educate, advocate and inspire action. If you move just one person to think differently, that’s progress.

I write a lot about philanthropy and its meaning. I think Bill Gates comes to mind when most people hear the word. You need money to be philanthropic. I cringe when I hear these words. Working in the nonprofit sector, I know there are more ways in which people can make a difference. Sometimes it’s as simple as the non-judgmental way you treat a person when they walk through a door that can change a person’s life.

Later on in the retreat, a board member presented on the topic of creating a culture of philanthropy at the organization. An organization that traditionally did not ask board members or staff to give or held many fundraising events. While she was preaching to the choir to me, the rest of the room was thoroughly challenged. We talked about what we wanted to achieve with the session and what scared us about it. It was revealed that many people did not feel comfortable talking about giving money nor did they understand the expectations of the organization around giving.

As we opened ourselves up to talking about giving, we began to feel more comfortable. People spoke up who might normally hold back. Board members and executive staff shared their points of view regarding what their roles should and should not be. It was the beginnings of a dialogue that needed to be started and will need to be continued.

And then the board member presented a new definition of philanthropy that I had not yet heard.

“Philanthropy is about the investment in social good.”

She noted that we were already incredibly invested in the organization. We were already philanthropic. Our dedication to the agency and belief in the mission and social good of the work that is done every day were our investment.

I thought of my Giving Pledge. I give to a nonprofit each month and write about it to keep myself accountable, but I never reveal my donation amount. To some, my amount may be a lot. To others, it might be pocket change. It doesn’t matter and shouldn’t. That’s not the point. My public giving pledge helps me be more deliberate in my giving and inspires others (hopefully) to do the same.

It remains to be seen what comes from our conversation at that board retreat. Members were certainly more open to talking about giving and asking for money on behalf of the organization. A step in the right direction. But I know the history.

It makes me wonder how many people don’t give simply because they think they won’t make a difference. What would happen if we gave just a few dollars every month? Everyone. We could make some serious change in the world.

In this season of giving, consider reframing your idea of philanthropy. Stop and hold a door for a stranger. Give to a cause you believe in. Bring food to a local food pantry. Check in with an older neighbor. Skip the double latte and donate the money to a nonprofit instead.

It’s when we reframe our concept of philanthropy that we create a culture of giving.

Who wants to change the world with me?