Transformation Through Virtous Philanthropy

Mission: To inspire generations to abundantly fulfill their wealth legacy.

Friday, April 25, 2014

“Cart Before the Horse” Philanthropy

"Cart Before the Horse" Philanthropy
From talking with professional tax and legal advisors, there seems to be a plethora of well- informed and knowledgeable advisors who advocate “cart before the horse” philanthropy to their clients.

Such philanthropic advice comes in several varieties, and most often begins with “How.” Perhaps the advisor asks, “How much do you want to save in taxes?” or “How would you like to avoid capital gains on your sale of appreciated securities?” or “How much do you want to leave to your favorite charity?”

Yes, in the right context, these questions are certainly valid, but when asked in regard to philanthropic matters, they tend to place the “cart before the horse.” For an advisor to engage a client in meaningful dialogue about their philanthropic intent and aspirations, one needs first to find out “why” and “what” the client’s reasons are for supporting issues or causes that have touched their life. Asking the “why” and “what” questions requires an advisor to actively listen to the client’s story and to resist presenting a solution until hearing the entire story. 

“Horse in front of the cart” philanthropy requires the advisor to honor and respect the client’s values, dreams and concerns for family and community. And it also requires significantly more time on the part of both the client and the advisor to have a true understanding of the feeling and the facts embedded in client’s story. But the results from such an investment of time can be transformational for the client, the advisor, and the community. The client has a comprehensive life plan aligned with personal values and vision (the “why”), the community is a better place for all (the “what”), and the advisor becomes a trusted partner in the implementation of the plan (the “how”). 

Giddy up philanthropy!!

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where is the balance between the heart and head in philanthropy?

What is the balance between the heart and head in philanthropy?
In today’s technological age, I believe it is very easy to get caught up in the over analysis of the reasons people give. In recent decades there has been significant research and writings on what motivates donors to do what they do and why.

Elizabeth Svoboda’s August 2013 Wall Street Journal article, “Hard-Wired for Giving,” shows some scientific evidence behind giving. She reports that experiments in 2007 by University of Oregon economist Dr. Bill Harbaugh and psychologist Ulrich Mayr used an MRI scanner to pinpoint exactly what goes on in a person’s brain when they decide to give to charity. Results showed that “areas of the brain associated with the processing of unexpected rewards, such as the nucleus accumbens lit up. The nucleus accumbens contains the neurons that release the pleasure chemical dopamine.”

The WSJ article goes on to say that Dr. Harbaugh in general found, “the greater the pleasurable brain activation, the more likely subjects were to give frequently. You can actually measure how much activation there is and predict with some degree of accuracy how much they’re going to give,” Dr. Harbaugh says.

I’m not advocating for every donor to have a brain scan before they visit a nonprofit organization or walk into their professional advisors office for a meeting, but the results are fascinating.

In some ways the advanced diagnostic tools and MRI techniques might very well correlate with the qualitative work of Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru File. In 1994, they first shed light on donor behavior by identifying and categorizing seven personalities types of major donors in their book The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. The seven personality types are: Communitarian, Socialites, Investor, Dynasts, Altruists, Devout and Repayers. For many fundraisers, Prince’s and File’s observations and research still serve as the foundation for donor cultivation and communication.

But perhaps in very significant ways, at least for me, the current work of the scientific professionals discounts the importance that feelings of the heart have in the making of philanthropic decisions. Might this be the right time to revisit, revive, and reinstate the value of some very basic unique American philanthropic virtues? These virtues were observed and first identified by De Tocqueville in his 1835 book Democracy in America, as “self-interest rightly understood… how enlightened love of themselves made them ready and willing to sacrifice a portion of their time and wealth for the good of the state.”

Let’s find a balance between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of why donors give and keep the heart beating strong for the spirit of America’s philanthropy.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When did the ladies who lunch become the ladies who lead?

Make no mistake there’s been a quiet transformation of leadership in the philanthropic community. Perhaps you missed its subtle arrival. It’s not the flamboyant style of the mighty tycoons of the past, driven by ego; but rather it’s an elegant and fashionable movement driven by sensibility and purpose.

Ladies who lead are making waves for the greater good by living authentic lives fostering the ideals of creativity, collaboration, and giving both time and money. Ladies who lead are using “time tested ‘women’s ways’ of leading, (that) have become the gold standard for great leaders of both genders, and the building blocks for success in today’s global economy,” writes Martha Mayhood Mertz in Becoming ATHENA: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership.

What’s good for the global economy is also good for the philanthropic economy. Leading the philanthropic economy, as marketing guru Tom Peters first proclaimed in 1997, are women - “the greatest ‘national’ economy.” And this “greatest economy” is good for every nonprofit organization’s sustainable fiscal health.

Research findings from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University affirm the growing impact of women’s giving leadership in their Women Give 2012 Study.  When taking into consideration factors such as income, education and marital status, a key finding is that “Boomer and older women are more likely to give to charity and give more than their counterparts when other factors affecting giving are taken into consideration.” This study is a follow-up to the Institute’s Women Give 2010 research which found that “Single women are more likely to give to charity and give at a higher level than single men, across most income levels, after accounting for other factors that affect giving.”

The tipping point, in my opinion, for this significant paradigm shift toward boomer women’s more dynamic and purposeful leadership style, occurred in 2006 in an historic one week window of time when three icons in women’s history died. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein and civil rights activist Coretta Scott King died on Jan. 30. The visionary feminist Betty Friedan died a few days later on Feb. 4. Moving forward from this loss, boomer women began not only to unite in their philanthropic mandate for a better world, but also to reassess their strengths to lead in a more compassionate and collaborative way.

You can read more about boomer women and their journey in Women, Wealth and Giving: The Virtuous Legacy of the Boom Generation, the book I co-authored in 2010.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who do philanthropists answer to?

If one subscribes to the axiom that success is in the “eye of the beholder,” then the question becomes, “Who is the beholder?” Is it the philanthropist who gives? Is it the organization that accepts? Is it the beneficiary who receives? Who has the primary responsibility of defining success and determining the metrics with which to define what success means?

If one maintains that philanthropy is not a commodity defined by market supply and demand but rather the result of a personal journey driven by values and beliefs, then perhaps to a great extent, the responsibility of defining success falls squarely on the philanthropist who gives.

There is a significant and responsible discussion taking place in the nonprofit profession as to how to define an organization’s philanthropic impact. It is healthy and it is timely. One element to add to this discussion is the ultimate accountability of the donor who has the freedom to choose when to give, how to give, and to whom to give. Flattery may get more gifts but does it translate into impact or success in the “eye of the beholder” – in this case the philanthropist?

Authors Thomas J. Tierney and Joel L. Fleishman in their book Give Smart encourage donors to follow a process of inquiry around six questions, one being, “What am I accountable for?” And in writing about accountability and characteristics that distinguish philanthropists, they conclude, “the single most consequential may be the fact that they are essentially accountable to no one but themselves.”

Such a reality comes with great responsibility for the donor to get good advice and to set self-imposed standards of excellence to achieve as much impact as possible with the resources available. Is it not virtuous to expect the same of those who accept the donation and those who receive the services? To achieve such excellence requires communication, transparency, honesty, and trust from all participants.

Let the donor dialogue begin!

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Erase the Myth of Scarcity and Mindset of Fear

Women are the greatest economy on earth. Philanthropy offers women a platform for their abundance for two specific reasons:

1) The political and corporate sectors have yet to fully recognize the extraordinary value feminine strengths of caring, collaboration, connecting, and consensus building bring to our dysfunctional society.

2) Women’s attitudes regarding the accumulation and use of money are different from those of men. For men, the accumulation of money is the goal – it defines status and power. For women the accumulation of money is a means to an end – it gives women the freedom and the ability to impact society and support the causes that make their hearts sing.

Yet, I believe, women’s full potential for abundant philanthropic leadership is still in some ways a prisoner to the myth of scarcity and a mindset of fear. This is especially true for women who are more familiar and comfortable with the traditional giving of time rather than using their money as a forceful commodity to impact social, civic, and cultural agendas in their community.

However, as more women tell their story and talk about why they give and how the power of giving money aligns with their values to create the world they want, it is evident this myth of scarcity and a mindset of fear are diminishing. Abundance is on the horizon. Women are well on their way to becoming leading change agents. And when they partner with nonprofit organizations they can become “hyper-agents” – resulting in a new paradigm for women’s philanthropy. I call this new paradigm the Three Principles of Abundance:

1) Every woman is a philanthropist

2) Every woman has a legacy story

3) Every woman makes a difference

The greatest economy on earth is poised to become the cohort of the greatest philanthropists on earth. Abundance has found a home. 

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Take time to think and reflect

Perhaps the time has come to re-examine our thinking about values and valuables.

Is our country’s moral compass still pointing true north? Can conspicuous compassion temper conspicuous consumption? Does de Tocqueville’s doctrine of “self-interest rightly understood” have a place in our high-tech interdependent world economy? 

History gives us many places and people where one can look for some both thought provoking commentary and down to earth common sense. Author Mark Twain for sure; possibly the infamous New York Yankee manager, Yogi Berra for some; the ancient Greek philosophers for solace. 

Recently I was handed a list of “The Ten Cannots,” attributed to the 20th century religions leader, William J. H. Boetcker. They struck a chord with me, and so I want to share them with you.

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn

You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong

You cannot help little men by tearing down big men

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich

You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred

You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s (and women’s) initiative and independence

And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves

In our modern day world, many believe the strength of our future depends on the compatibility of and respect for diversity. Take time to think and reflect. Humankind is counting on each of us to create the world we want for the common good of all.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Numbers Never Tell All

For many years, the sign hanging on the wall in Albert Einstein’s Princeton office read, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

This is quite true in philanthropy, especially when it comes to the fundraising and administrative costs which are often analyzed in terms of a percent or ratio of operating expenses. Who is to say the current formulas used by rating agencies to hallmark the qualities of an efficient and well-run organization are the “cat’s meow?”

It’s the best we have, but can they be improved, can the formulas be more representative, transparent and holistic? How could donor insight and response from the community served add to a convergence of both quantitative and qualitative measurement of philanthropic impact and organization efficiency?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, and that is why I raise the questions. They have been on my mind ever since meeting Dan Pallotta, author of “Uncharitable” at the 2009 national Partnership for Philanthropic Planning Conference. I do suggest we need an ongoing dialogue on the subject and encourage you to read three recent posts relevant to the subject, available at the links below:

I look forward to your thoughtful responses.

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