Category Archives: Philanthropy Ideas

Why Speak Ill of Charity?

It’s sad. There are too many people who speak ill of charities.

Some making sweeping accusations or conclusions without any real evidence or understanding.

Some prefer to focus on the mistakes charities make (and of course they make some) rather than the good they deliver,

There are some who think the continuation of social problems means charities have failed because not everyone is housed, or healthy, or free of violence. Imagine saying to a heart surgeon she is a failure because for every life she saves, others die from heart disease – as if that is her fault. I trust you understand my point.

Some analyze charitable activity by the numbers alone, especially the the most common one, administration costs.

And for some reason some folks just aren’t charitable.  And more times than not, they are not shy about expressing their derision.

Truth be told I think leaders of charities should listen to all of those voices and all the others that arise and see what truths might exist even in those comments found to be disdainful.

To my colleagues, especially to the leaders of our charities, please rethink the current narrative about how the charity model has failed and how we need to move away from it.  Don’t replace the word charity with new words that likely won’t stand the test of time. Charity is good. Being charitable is good for all involved. Being charitable is about being human.

It’s not about moving away.

It’s not about moving on.

It’s about changing how we do charity when change is needed, when new ways are necessary.

It’s about getting better.

And it’s not about admitting defeat and then changing the conversation.

Heretical Propositions: Toward Democratic Philanthropy (Part Two)

(CONTINUED…  If you missed Part One in this series, you can find it here.)

It is well documented that those countries where the Income Gap between the wealthiest and poorest citizens tend to have a higher degree of crime, incarceration, mental illness, and health problems. Both the United States and Canada have wide gaps between the wealthy and the poor and both have higher incidents of social, economic, and health problems than other nations with smaller more realistic gaps

The growing chasm between rich and poor contributes to isolation, insensitivity, and intolerance. Systems and public institutions are designed and operated by those with power and the large majority of those in charge have higher incomes. Frequently the policies and systems they put into place appear to benefit those with means far more than those without.

quote4In the Province of Alberta and in its capital city, Edmonton, where I live, the economy is quite strong. Many large scale capital development projects are underway. I heard Edmonton alone has about $20 billion in major development lined up over the next several years. That’s $20,000,000,000! At the same time there is a two to three year wait for Edmonton’s public housing. Much, if not most, of that $20 billion in development won’t benefit the poor, the homeless, or the mentally ill and I have a feeling that the hundreds of thousands living pay cheque to pay cheque in Edmonton won’t either.

Despite the various indicators economists and business leaders use to gauge economic progress, our economies locally, provincially, and nationally are not working for the majority of citizens. Celebrations about how many jobs have been created are ipso facto celebrations of reductions in good paying, full time jobs and increases in part-time, low paying jobs (and too often insecure jobs).  Trust me. Those working those jobs are not popping champagne bottles to sip while they dine on macaroni and cheese.

Continue reading Heretical Propositions: Toward Democratic Philanthropy (Part Two)

Heretical Propositions: Toward Democratic Philanthropy (Part One)

 This is the first installment of a series from a long essay I am writing about philanthropy or more specifically about the need for a major, if not radical shift, toward democratic philanthropy. The essay will be included in a book of exposition and criticism I am writing, currently entitled “Heretical Propositions.”

Money can mean a lot of things for those who have it. It can feed us, open doors, and keep us safe and warm. For those who have a lot of it — we call that “wealth” — it also provides influence and power. Those who make policy are those in power and most of those in positions of power are making enough money to do more than survive. In fact, once you have a certain amount of money and influence, one can use both to create more wealth and power.

It’s what we all want, isn’t it? Our friends south of the border still believe in the American Dream, which is invariably tied to financial success, albeit of various degrees. We don’t really have a Canadian Dream that all of us hold up like a shrine. But if we are paying attention, success in Canada is more times than not tied to personal financial gains.

quote1Most of us would admit that we would welcome wealth in our lives. Most of us are satisfied with making enough to buy a home, save for retirement, and escape to the Caribbean now and again.  Some of us aspire for more than that and undertake actions to achieve wealth and the comforts and security it provides us and those we love. None of us, however, would say that we would be satisfied with having less than we need to scrape by. Scraping by is not an aspiration. There are no best sellers about that, I imagine.

Wealth is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is true that wealth can create jobs (although what kind of jobs is the real question) and fuel innovation and learning. It can be used to support needed research into disease or to support efforts to help those who are disadvantaged. And we do see how billionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates use their wealth for good. In my community, wealthy individuals and families contribute to causes they believe in. I admire people who share their wealth.

Continue reading Heretical Propositions: Toward Democratic Philanthropy (Part One)


Taken from WHAT’S NEXT for PHILANTHROPY, Monitor Institute Download Report

“As innovation theorist Bhaskar Chakrovorti explains in The Slow Pace of Fast Change, ‘The players in various networked markets appear to be prisoners of their own individualism. The problem is that the decisions that make sense at the individual or institutional level are not necessarily the best choices when viewed in the aggregate.’

“The result in philanthropy is a system with no natural mechanism for coordinating effort, for learning, for sharing knowledge about what does and doesn’t work, or for adapting to shifting circumstances. Isolated successes are seldom replicated, and new innovations replace old ones before they have time to prove themselves, with the unfortunate byproduct that funders and their grantees are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

“That’s the playing field, and no amount of critique alone will change it. As we have argued before, positive change in a voluntary field will take hold only when it can be embraced as an aspiration of the healthy, not when it must be accepted like a cure for the sick.”

This report is worth a look.

Fundraising Innovations (but so much more than that)

I spend a fair amount of my “free” time looking into trends that are and will be impacting the nonprofit sector. The kind of trends I am interested in go beyond what we gather from traditional sources like Stats Canada and Imagine Canada (both of which I hold in very high regard by the way).

Yes, it’s true that current trends indicate the most of the money donated comes from a very small portion of the donor population. And I believe that trend will continue for some time, but I am not sure that statistic will hold up over the long-term. What I mean is that the wealthy will continue to give but there are things happening now that are changing the face of philanthropy. One of those things is what I will call, “the democratizing of giving” and creating movements of interest and change, which are beginning to deliver dollars in growing amounts from small gifts – often called microgiving.

Microgiving is a natural evolution of online giving but more to the point social media, in particular social networking. This trend is bringing giving to a level of human touch and providing people with the means and tools to make a difference directly, not necessarily through traditional charities.

Fundraisers should take notice because there are many opportunities to start capitalizing on this trend – and I mean in good ways of course.

The microgiving trend is not a “stand-alone” trend. It is connected to the rapid rise of social networking in our daily lives and the slow but steady realization of many nonprofits that their futures – or more to the point – the future of their causes must engage people and organizations as a network as opposed to just donors or just volunteers.

Social networks are in effect collaborations on steroids. They go beyond the traditional view of collaboration as something organizations do with one another, which if you think about it is often a way of picking and choosing whom we work with, while excluding others.

Social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and even wiki technology are connecting people in ways that was never possible before. They enable individuals to connect with one another but also with causes, and perhaps most important social conversations about life.

Sure, much of social media is about people having fun, recreating, and sharing mundane information about their lives, but it is also true that social media is revolutionizing how people become informed, interested, engaged, and committed in terms of what they find meaningful.

While it  may seem contradictory, the use of technology and the Internet is creating an intimacy of sorts with life and its many manifestations that people are not finding in institutions.

People want to make a difference in those things that are important to them, and as we know what is important to us is identified through our exchanges with others, through what we are exposed to, what we learn, and what we dream about.

Okay, enough pontificating! Here are some examples of social networking as it relates to creating interest in causes. The following is a mix of things, ranging from small to large efforts that involve networks of people.

12 Nonprofits and Causes to follow on Twitter: This list includes, Twestival (make sure you take a look at this one), DonorsChoose (I have written before about this one),, and a bunch of others that have significant “followers” on Twitter. Imagine having an audience of more than 300,000 followers to your cause!

Jason Pollack’s list of non-profit organizations on Listorius offers up opportunties to become a Twitter follower of an incredible list of causes/charities including joinred (over a million Twitter followers), the Case Foundation (300,000 + followers), and Ashoka (over 300,000 followers). While there are people who just twit their time away on Twitter, there are thousands who are choosing causes to be connected to.

Socialbrite’s list of change-makers, focuses more on individuals than nonprofits. Clicking on their link brings you to their Twitter page where you can see the nature of the social conversations there. It’s a small group right now, but given the relationship with, I think it will grow.

On my social media site for non-profits (, I list some Facebook success stories: the World Wildlife Fund with 337,000 “friends”; joinred has over 500,000 friends. In fact, non profits are creating such a presence on Facebook that Facebook itself launched a page for non profits: click here (it has 290,000 members).

I am not suggesting you rush out and open Twitter and Facebook accounts. And if you are already doing Facebook and Twitter with less than inspiring results, I am not suggesting you get discouraged.

What I am trying to point out is the trend and how important it is for nonprofits to not only understand social media as a tool (or set of tools) but the phenomenon of networking and how important it is for nonprofits to network with people – one person at a time in order to make a difference.

I have posted a number of pieces on social networking and social media on this blog. My most recent one is called Social Media and Your Non-Profit and it is two posts down from this one. You can download the posting too. I hope it helps.