Philanthropy succeeds in spite of itself

Everyone wants to give to a great cause. No one actually does it. Why? The last 9 months I’ve been building a business in the fundraising space and have seen, first hand, exactly why people struggle to raise money. I’ve identified three reasons why… and here they are

First, it’s nearly impossible to track where your gift goes. Most organizations act as a black box. Money in… result out (well we’re not sure if the result is real but we’ll tell you it is). People hate it. Everyone feels like they’re getting ripped off. One organization that has absolutely crushed this is charity:water. They guarantee that every donation to the foundation will be put to use on site. Not to pay for some fancy office in New York or for some development officers 6 figure salary. How do they do that? They divide the operations (paying people to work at the foundation) from the foundation (actually doing good). If you donate to the foundation every cent goes where you expect it to. If you donate to the operations, every cent pays to run the foundation. Another great example is Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who pledged to sell a billion dollars in stock to support philanthropy. Due to appreciation it’s now around 4 billion he will allocate. He also opened it up… via google sheet, and anyone can go look at it.

Next, philanthropy is counter intuitive. You’re just giving money to something because you believe that your dollars will ultimately do something good for someone else. Humans normally hoard things of value. What they are really buying is a feeling. What is the organization I am giving to going to make me feel? In sports (I work mainly with athletic departments) that feeling should be victory. Most of the time people forget exactly what they’re selling. How can a fundraiser facilitate the feeling that they are selling.

Finally, the most egregious of them all… no one wants to change. Organizations don’t sit down and ask, how could this be going better? Why aren’t we raising more money? Is there anything we can do that will help our cause? While there are a few that think about the problems like this, many are afraid to try wild things. Nothing works better than changing how you raise; generally from a one to many model to a relationship based model. After that first transition, you have to experiment… a lot. Nothing will move your raise forward faster than a willingness to try things.

Fundraising is so important to philanthropy… it’s the only thing that keeps it going. How do you build a better fundraising engine? You make it clear where money goes, focus on what you’re selling (a feeling), and try stuff. Now you’ve raised enough to go change the world.

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