Are We Listening Only to Ourselves?

I enjoy reading The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg and other business publications very much. Their “take” on philanthropy provides invaluable insights into the thoughts and motivations of donors, many of whom made their fortunes in business.

We in the nonprofit sector sometimes become too insular. We seek information to guide us in our work from insiders working within the field. And while this is surely important, by following broad-based media coverage regarding philanthropy on a regular basis, one gains great insight from the “other side of the table.”

I enjoyed an article by Andrew Cave for Forbes, “Giving To Your Church Doesn’t Count,” in which Jon Huntsman Sr. discussed his charitable giving.

“I can’t tell you why I give,” he says. “People have asked me that question for the last 20-30 years and I have never come up with a satisfactory answer, other than the fact that some people think you’re crazy. I love to see the twinkle in peoples’ eyes. It’s a high, a real feeling of excitement and exhilaration to be able to help people. It’s hard to explain why. It’s not something other members of my family have done; it’s not something that’s inherited. It’s just something that for me is very important.”

Here is another article I enjoyed. Julie Bort quotes Bill Gates for Business Insider, “Bill Gates Thinks Your Donations To Charity Are A Bigger Deal Than His” (2014):

“My charitable giving is not impressive. What’s impressive is people who give to charities who have to sacrifice something to give it to him. In my family, we don’t even hesitate to buy yet another airplane. But there are people who have to choose, do I go out to dinner? Or do I give this $20 to my church? That’s a very different decision than I make. Those are the people that impress me.”

Michael Bloomberg was quoted by Paul Sullivan in The New York Times in 2016,

“I’m a practical person,” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview at Bloomberg Philanthropies ahead of the release of its annual report. “If we’ve got a problem, let’s do something. I want to find one small thing.”

Barry Harrell wrote an insightful article for the Austin American-Statesman a few years ago, “Austin Billionaire DeJoria Talks Philanthropy” (2011). Barry asked how John Paul DeJoria – founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron – signed-on to the Giving Pledge, and whether or not Warren Buffett approached him. John Paul responded:

“I had dinner with him and he told me what he was doing. And I explained to him, that’s kind of what I’m doing, anyway. If you look at the money that I make, where it goes, it’s turning out that what I do in my lifetime and what my kids will do with theirs after half of what I’m making will go to change the world, anyway. He said, ‘You should join our club,’ and I said, ‘I think I’m already in it.’ I’m already doing it, so if I can help out with others, sure. So, heck yeah. We were already starting to do this, anyway, starting to do that before we go, so we decided to make that pledge that in our lifetime, half of what I have will go to some type of a charity.”

Another favorite information resource is the annual Fortune 500. This invaluable list can help nonprofits identify potential partners, learn about companies that are strong and healthy, who runs the organization, where they are located, and what external factors are affecting their performance at any given time, for instance.

Obviously, we all read the local newspaper for helpful information of all kinds, but we should also look specifically for information that sheds light on the interests, alliances and working styles of our donors and prospective donors. Local newspapers as well as trusted national business publications are incredibly helpful in this regard. I have also noticed that as more companies engage in social good, the more coverage appears on philanthropic activities.

We as a sector can improve our partnership-building and fundraising performance on many levels if we make the effort to stand in the shoes of philanthropists to understand how we are perceived by them, as well as by the specific clientele we serve.

On the flip side, the mainstream media could do more to cover philanthropy (not just the occasional and more dramatic stories of failure). As more companies see the value of investing in social good, enhanced media coverage could help promote the concept further and broaden its adoption. That will benefit our sector and our many worthy nonprofit missions.

Food for thought.

Resources for Nonprofits Seeking Top Notch Corporate Partners

  • If you are concerned about diversity in the workplace and related issues, you might bookmark the website of DiversityInc. There you will learn about companies that are diversity champions, and those still facing challenges.
  • Fortune, Change the World list (2016). Many social good partners may be found herein!

For those with lingering concerns about Wall Street, you might enjoy watching Devin Thorpe’s interview, “John Taft: Wall Street Can Be a Force For Good” on YouTube (March 31, 2015).

 In closing, I would also like to thank Jim Cramer and The Street for including me on their Twitter “Our Favorite Followers” list! Click on the link to reach The Street on Twitter.

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