Leadership, Philanthropy, Resources

Why give? Who’s giving? What gives?

It’s that time of year when it seems nearly every charity in Canada is filling my mailbox with their year end appeals. Many of my nonprofit friends are under serious stress as they have to bring in a critical portion of their budgets in these next few weeks. In many cases, there is a real challenge in trying to discern how to appeal to current and potential donors. What story to tell, what pictures to include, what projects to push? Two recent articles may serve to further cloud the issue. As a follow to their well done series on Canadian philanthropy, the Globe and Mail reported that the small rebound in overall charitable giving in Canada should be little consolation to nonprofits with long term aspirations because the donor base in our country is continuing to grow older. Younger people simply are not embracing the idea of giving money to charity. Couple that with the Boston Globe’s report that can be summarised with this quote:

The latest findings from psychology suggest it’s unlikely — that when it comes to giving, at least, the deliberative thinking that’s associated with making informed choices actually makes it less likely that a person will give at all.
We’re left with a confusing environment in which charities have incentive to appeal to the lowest common denominator of donor motivation (like in this post from October 2009), while seeing their core donors slowly dying off. Common wisdom is that younger generations are convinced that clicking a “like” button or participating in an “awareness campaign” is real philanthropy. That cynical view has some validity, but I’m far from convinced. The challenge for nonprofit leaders is to consider getting beyond the lowest common denominator mindset in which donors are essentially awkward bank machines who exist to fun the dreams of the charity, and begin to see their organizations as agencies that exist to connect the dreams of donors with people in need. Seeking to truly engage donors who share your vision creates the potential for deeper, more profitable, and referral ready relationships. Be the charity that serves donors and you will probably find them (at any age) to be more supportive by far than the trends suggest. Who does this well? I continue to be impressed with a lot of what I see from Opportunity Canada.  Many Youth for Christ Canada staff are embracing this approach with great results. In fact, most of the organizations we call partners have earned our trust (and our funds) by building these kinds of relationships.