Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some People Who Contribute To Nonprofits Are Made...Not Born

Philanthropy, the activity of charity, comes from within a person and is also developed within a community. If and how a person, over the course of their life, learns about philanthropy, giving to one's community, and sharing one's time or other contributions with their community; depends on what values they learn, if and how they are exposed to community involvement, what they understand about philanthropy and community, and what they come to value as adults.

No one need be a millionaire to be a philanthropist. Every day, millions of people give contributions (of any kind:volunteer time, expertise, items or goods (i.e. used computer in good condition), or money) to a nonprofit organization of their choice. Contributions may be donating: their used clothes in excellent condition, or two volunteer hours a week, or a regular annual gift of $75.

Often, in the nonprofit sector, in the interest of understanding how to best increase community support, professionals working for the community will consider how to best engage potential donors who have not yet given to the nonprofit that they work for, going about it by attracting involvement through general personal interests (i.e. golf tournaments, gala dinners, auctions, etc.); and engage donors by clearly stating in the press, in the organization's own publications (i.e. newsletters and annual reports, etc.) what the organization does, why it does this work right now, its successes, its current goals, and why it is the best organization to address the issue it does. While engaging the community in these ways are good professional practices, we nonprofit sector professionals need to first consider what philanthropic values, experiences, and knowledge the people in our communities have, or don't have.

There are a myriad of professional services that in part, and some in total, help anyone interested in setting up a charitable trust or even a foundation, to do so. These Certified Financial Planners, Certified Public Accountants, Community Foundations, and others specialize in the activity of philanthropy, and enable those interested in being philanthropists to do so. These services really are aimed at the wealthy or those who are expecting to have acquired a specified amount to designate to their community, perhaps, for instance, in their personal estate, after they pass on. Often the philanthropist, though, comes to these professionals with the interest already established to give charitably. They have gone so far to actualize their intention to give and be active in their communities as donors.

Many people who support nonprofits come to do so through different reasons. Some attend a specific organization's annual comedy festival, every year, and by buying the tickets to do so, contribute. Others give by perhaps donating products or services from their personal business; or donating when a friend or family member passes away and requests that memorials be donated to a specific nonprofit or two; or the woman who volunteers four hours each week with the nonprofit that helped her to get working and able to afford everything that she and her two children need, now, because it is a 'back to work' organization that provided her with self esteem counseling and trained her to be proficient in a new professional skill. Again, though, these are people who perhaps through their own personal experiences came to appreciate what they receive from giving to their communities and what that gift that they gave did in their communities.

Yes, the tax deduction is a nice 'plus' for those who contribute items of value (or assets, or money). Studies have repeatedly shown, though, that donors, while appreciative of the tax deduction they receive for the fair market value of the items of value that they give; donors actually mostly give to effect change where and however they see it is needed. This underscores the value the contributor either already feels for the nonprofit that they gave to, of the value that they would like to feel for the nonprofit that they donated to or volunteered with. The contributor will consider the cause that it works for, and what work it does and how well it does that work (and how well the organization is run). If a person interested in volunteering takes their grave concern for the environment and decides to use that to do something about the issue, by volunteering - then they begin to research which environmental issue and cause they think will best alleviate the environmental issue that most concerns them. The contributor wants to support an organization that takes their asset or money or volunteered time and expertise and succeeds in its mission statement (and what's more, they need to be informed that their contribution allowed for this success to come to be - because...without community support it would not have).

We are still left, though, as nonprofit professionals with those in our community who are new to wealth, and those who do not understand what the nonprofit sector is, what it does, and why they would want to support this critical and vibrant sector. Maybe these people are not millionaires, or they are not even aware of the option to support their community, or perhaps they are so busy in their lives that they are not actively aware of the news and what's going on in the world. A professional nonprofit director may pass these people off as 'a group of people who (as a demographic) are not going to give anyway, so why waste the money or effort to try to engage them'. This assumption, though, would be selling your organization, these folks, and the community's potential short.

The nonprofit sector in a given community (town, region, etc.), can come together as a whole, to together conduct an information campaign, in order to engage people to be sure that community members learn what philanthropy is, what the nonprofit sector is, the value to the community when its members get involved (however they want to, however often they can), and what benefits the individual who contributes (however they can) receives from their community involvement experience. This campaign can even be something as simple as getting the local newspaper to donate a print page and one web page in its most read issue for the nonprofits to articulate the compelling community-involvement facts.

Even if only one or two nonprofits in a region independently, or together, conduct a community campaign simply clarifying what philanthropy is and its benefits - it is a boon for them and the other organizations in their community (and all of the nonprofit organizations in the area owe them a 'thank you').

It's good to remember that some donors are not born - some are made.

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