Recent conversations and readings have inspired my thinking about a hypothetical Community Giving Center – a physical and virtual network of and for generous people.
What’s a Community Giving Center about? In my last three posts, it was about the right physical environment, a culture of reciprocity, low-level affiliation, open architecture operations, employing network weavers, and mobilizing resources around resonance. In addition…
It’s about “meaningful giving,” not “effective giving” – the recent research report, Money for Good, showed that wealthy donors say they care about the effectiveness of nonprofits and their own gifts. However, few donors do intensive research into effectiveness before they give. What’s more, donors are incredibly loyal, with 86% of donations going to the same organizations as last year.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. People naturally want to be right – we naturally feel we’re smart donors or investors. It’s called confirmation bias, “a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, independently of whether they are true.” Behavioral economics and communications research confirms that our emotions and beliefs will outfox facts and rationality every day. Two recent great reads on this include Network for Good’s Homer Simpson for Nonprofits (doh!) and the Boston Globe’s article, How Facts Backfire.
There will never be universal demand for nonprofit effectiveness ratings, outcomes data, and program logic charts. (Sorry friends in the evaluation world.) But what is universal is our search for meaning and for connections to community and something bigger.
Our hypothetical Community Giving Center is ultimately focused on helping people get their generous stuff done, whether that is donating, volunteering, advocating, or investing. I think this will mean more time helping people define and act on what is meaningful for each of them. More time helping them connect with others who share their hopes and concerns for the world, and even taking action together. Questions about impact and effectiveness may naturally flow from the network of generous people and the Center would help them explore options that make sense for them. But the Center would lose donors’ trust if it tried operating with a culture that “impact-based giving is better than emotion-based giving” (e.g. “we professional staff or long-time donors are smarter than you”).
What if nonprofit CEOs, foundation staff, and philanthropy advisors (including me) and philanthropy critics gave up their addiction to telling donors what to do and how to give? (And, who will create the drugs and 12-step groups necessary to support that process?) What if a traditional philanthropic institution was truly generous and gave away the concepts of “good giving” and “right solutions to community problems” to generous community members?
Conclusion (for now)
Consultants more experienced than I am say the world of philanthropy is going through big changes. The Monitor Institute’s What’s Next for Philanthropy and Duke University’s Disrupting Philanthropy are just two of the important current analyses of philanthropic trends and changes.
The world is working in more networked and transparent ways. Boundaries between private, philanthropic, government, and citizen sectors are blurring. Individual donors and entrepreneurs have more options to express their generosity, attract others’ generosity, and drive community change. Existing institutions that work in community philanthropy – United Ways, giving circles, community foundations, churches, youth service initiatives, and others – are facing tough culture changes to survive these changes and more.
My hope is that the hypothetical Community Giving Center I’ve described may offer some clues on new ways for those existing institutions to do business. At the core, the idea of the Center is about helping people get their generous stuff done, however they define that along the way. It would attract people through a setting and culture that create a trusted, authentic, fun, and useful experience – one that meets the changing ways the world works and changing options people have to express their generosity. Done right, I think the result would be increased giving, volunteering, advocating, and socially-conscious investing.
What do you think? Is the Community Giving Center idea worth pursuing? Is it even feasible?