Sunday, April 24, 2011

Creating A Culture of Philanthropy

In the next few blogs I will offer specific ways in which colleges and universities can create and deepen a culture of philanthropy, to include culture of “accountable gratitude” that will sustain it over many years.

The seeds of true philanthropy should be planted at freshman convocation. All too often, colleges and universities merely exhort their new charges to give by stressing the critical importance of private support to the life of the institution. But creating the rationale for fund raising is not the same as creating a culture of philanthropy. The latter could be achieved if the president were to say,

“Today, we formally induct you into this institution. In so doing, we provide you a wealth of life-changing and life-deepening opportunities. The more effort and open-mindedness you bring to the task, the more this remarkably rich culture will yield, though the full value of it all may take decades to realize. We also pass along a gift of immense, immeasurable value, one that previous generations have passed on to us. Each generation of students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends has enhanced its value. In the dedication to their duties and to the place itself, each has added depth and dimension.

Many have given of their time, talent and treasure. The impact of their generosity is all around you, in the quality and capabilities of the faculty, in the range and depth of curricular and extra-curricular programs, in the beauty of the campus, the elegance of the architecture, the functionality of facilities, and in a thousand other ways that are less perceptible but nonetheless most certainly redound to our repute and ennoble our ethos.

Today, the generations of (institution’s name) bequeath this gift to you, the Class of (graduation year). In philanthropic support alone, we estimate the sum total of their support to be a stunning (amount). Today, we ask only that you enjoy that gift, and make the most of it, in every way possible, while you are here. But when you leave and start to benefit from what you have been given here, we ask that you begin to think about doing for the next generation what the previous one did for you. The farther you go down that road and the more you achieve, the more we hope you will reflect on the gift that was presented to you today, and ask yourself in what state your generation will leave it. To date, each generation has left a greater gift that the one it has received. We hope and trust your generation will do the same. In presenting this great gift of generations past to you, we remind, therefore, you that the future greatness of this institution is now in your hands. “

I hope you see how the framing of an inter-generational compact is far more effective in creating the long-term conditions for philanthropy that the mere exhortation to give. In my next post, I’ll offer another example of how we can continue to inspire and foster true philanthropy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Kind of Campaign We Need

The kind of campaign more institutions should be running is much different from the campaigns we have been running for many years. This new campaign would:

-not be framed or announced in terms of dollar goals but mission goals;

-have evolved those goals from soul-searching, participative discussions with current and prospective donors who shared the institution’s core values;

-not speak to how the institution would benefit but how the funds secured would benefit those the institution serves;

-have created means and mechanisms, including the creative and selective use of volunteers, to ensure those services were delivered cost-efficiently;

-make clear it would persist in the pursuit of those service goals over time because this would not be about getting a certain amount of money within a certain amount of time but about fulfilling a mission no matter what;

-demonstrate where cuts had been made or how costs had been contained to ensure clarity of mission and reassure donors that their contributions would add strategic value and advance core purposes;

-be nested in a 10-year plan to demonstrate a commitment to continuity of purpose; and

-seek to achieve the highest degree of participation from its external and internal stakeholders to ensure that the mission was widely understood and deeply held.

When times were good and lots of folks had growing financial reserves, you could get away with a “comprehensive campaign,” which was all-too-often a roll-up of internally generated wish lists. Now the times call for something more purpose-driven and service-oriented. Even in difficult or uncertain times, many people will give generously if a philanthropy-seeking organization shows them precisely where and how they can make a significant and lasting difference.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Philanthropy as a Value Proposition

Philanthropy is about a value proposition. Yes, donors “give,” rather than “buy” but they still assign a relative value to the causes and institutions they support. In short, they give more to some and less to others. So how do they make those calculations and what can we learn from them?

Donors give the most to organizations whose mission best corresponds to their own value systems and/or those with whom they enjoy the closest and deepest emotional connections. The two are inter-related in that donors grow closer to causes that share and advance their values, and become more aligned with an institution’s values if it nurtures deeper emotional ties with them.

Yet many philanthropy-seeking institutions diminish their perceived philanthropic value by:

  1. Speaking to the functions they perform rather than the values that underpin them. West Point, for instance, does more than prepare officers; it asks them to live by a lifelong code of “Duty, Honor, Country.” The articulation of that code taps into something far deeper, and therefore creates a more powerful connection .
  2. Failing to show donors how gifts advance institutional values. Even when institutions espouse deeper values, they don’t always link them to their fund-raising initiatives. A university may say it is committed to admitting students on scholastic merit, then finding a way of meeting their financial needs, for instance, but they must show donors how each new gift is creating a new opportunity for another worthy striver. Too many prospects are subjected to too many requests to give to a worthy cause without being shown the growing human impact of their giving. If they are asked to give more merely to maintain the status quo, the philanthropic value of that organization will decline in their estimation.
  3. Soliciting before eliciting the value systems of those that might support them and, therefore, failing to understand and align with them.
  4. Forgetting to reinforce donors’ values systems or deepen emotional connection in their gift recognition, donor relations and stewardship functions. Value systems can sometimes be most effectively reinforced through the use of symbol and ritual in various events but very few organizations think in these terms. Imagine if “grateful patients” who had given generous gifts were invited back to the medical center where they had been treated each year for a “State of Care” address, either about all the center is doing to in general to provide more sophisticated and human care, or about a particular “center of excellence” such as cardiovascular or cancer care. Imagine further if that medical center arranged for their grateful patients to have their cars valet parked and be greeted by a member of the staff who personally ushered them to the auditorium where the address was to take place. Imagine further if at the front of the auditorium there was a receiving line of staff, nurses and docs celebrating their arrival and, symbolically, their survival. Imagine further still if they were then led to VIP seating in the front of the auditorium and recognized at the outset of the address by the most prominent personage at the center who said, “We want to start this ceremony by celebrating not what we have done or are doing but what you have achieved. We want to not only share with you what we have learned and what we hope to accomplish but to ask that you share with us so that we may learn from your inspiring example. “ And, finally, imagine if they left with some simple pin or certificate that somehow signified that they were the heroes of the hospital’s medical staff. This reversing of the spotlight, away from us and on to them, of celebrating the survivor through the imaginative use of ritual, is exactly what has allowed the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to enjoy such significant fund-raising success.

When philanthropy-seeking organizations listen to and align with the values of those that might support them, they create communities of purpose. When they work with their potential supporters to carefully define the larger possibilities of those shared purposes, they create the foundation for productive philanthropy. When the stop expecting their supporters to laud their accomplishments and begin bestowing recognition of the achievements of those who have and might support them, they begin the process of building reciprocal relationships, of giving and receiving. As they do, their perceived philanthropic value grows and their connection to their supporters, and their supporters' affinity for them, deepens.