Philanthropy, Not Fundraising: I Have a Dream

Photo of moon rise

I have a dream…

I have a dream for 2013 – and beyond. I have a dream  this is the year your organization will move beyond defining yourself by what you’re not (nonprofit) and will begin to define yourself by what you are (social benefit). I have a dream  this is the year your people will move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”). I have a dream this is the year your staff and volunteers will move from enacting transactions to enabling transformation.

I have a dream you will push yourself and your organization towards transformative change. You will take the bull by the horns, adapt to the digital revolution and open yourself to the possibilities that change brings. You will give up on the static donor pyramid, ladder and funnel theory of engagement and put your donor at the center of a new, active engagement model that reflects the myriad ways people connect with organizations and causes today.

I have a dream you will learn who your best influencers are and you will embrace them.  You will recognize your are no longer your best messenger. You will understand that many forces beyond you influence your donor’s decision to invest with you, and you will expand your thinking and operations from a one-dimensional to a multi-dimensional model.  You will allow your constituents to engage with you at multiple points of entry, and to move freely between these points during the lifecycle of their engagement.

Sun rise over river

… the sun will rise…

I have a dream you will ask not what your donors can do for you, but what you can do for your donors.  You will recognize that they don’t serve you; you serve them. You will embrace the true meaning of philanthropy as love of humankind.  You will remember that your donors are humankind; you must love them if you want to be a part of philanthropy.  Otherwise, you’re just transacting business.

I have a dream you will reevaluate your raison d’etre.  You will ask yourself whether you’re in the business of selling, and you won’t answer cavalierly.You will not pat yourself on the back for being different than your for profit brethren.  You will not tell yourself that nonprofits are about mission and values and doing good deeds; whereas for profits are about greed and sales.  You will reevaluate why people compare ‘making the ask’ to ‘making the sale.’

I have a dream you will embrace your role as a salesperson, understanding how fundamentally human this is.You will understand that selling (the very definition of which is to exchange or deliver for money or its equivalent) is something that we’re constantly doing. And you will have an “ah ha” moment that this is also what fundraising is about — a value-for-value exchange.  A donor gives something of value (money or an in-kind good or service) and the charity returns something of value to the donor.  As Daniel Pink writes in his new book To Sell Is Humanthe ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness. It has helped our species evolve, lifted our living standards, and enhanced our daily lives. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaption to the merciless world of commerce.  It is part of who we are.

Clouds parting with rays of light

… the clouds will part…

I have a dream you will come from a place of love, not need. When interacting with your supporters you will do more than tell folks how much money you require. You will consider how your supporters benefit and what’s in it for them if they invest with you. You will help people to value your accomplishments by assuring they understand your impact.  You will recognize that if you don’t demonstrate impact, then you can’t expect folks to worry what might happen were you to be unable to grow or, even worse, cease to exist.

I have a dream you will speak to peoples’ hearts; not just their heads. You will become aware that if the bulk of your communication with supporters is about numbers, finances and pie charts rather than stories of real people being helped, it will become increasingly difficult to expect anyone to care enough about your mission to invest in your success.

I have a dream your leaders will embrace a culture of philanthropy that engulfs your entire organization.  You will eliminate silos and include everyone in the transformative power of your mission. You will make sure that everyone associated with your organization is clear about the values you enact and has stories they can tell about the ways you help to repair our world. Philanthropy will become the glue that binds everyone together – every department and every volunteer – working towards a common goal.

Rainblow emerging through clouds

… and it will be because of the light you shine.

I have a dream you will engage in philanthropy; not fundraising. You will embrace the fact that just as business has changed fundamentally, so must fundraising change fundamentally. You will accept that we’re all social businesses now; merely “transacting” no longer cuts it. You will agree that for too long fundraising has been approached as transactional – as being primarily about money – and that this approach results in fundraising being seen at best as an onerous chore; a necessary evil.  You will see that philanthropy is fundamentally social; it’s about love — and nothing could be more transformational.

I have a dream for 2013 – and beyond.  Do you share my dream?

Photos via Flickr:
55Laney69;lrargerich; Marc Crumpler


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I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. David Baynes says:

    Thanks Claire. You inspire me.

  2. This post is the perfect example of why you should win the best fundraising blog of the year award – what an inspirational post! I pray that one day we see organizations who embrace this philosophy. I wish I had more networks to pass this post on to lol!
    Natasha recently posted…An EMBARRASSING example of enabling – what would you do?My Profile

  3. A beautiful and insping post. Thank you.

  4. Joel Breitstein says:

    This is one of the better posts I have read in a long time. I do not ususlally respond, but I thought this was important. Philosophically I think you are right on point, especially if not-for-profit organizations are going to be able to develop charitable resources from the next generation. They do not want to be sold, they want to be engaged. “Philanthropy” engages people, since philanthropists make a difference with their money and their personal engagement. All organizations, regardless of their missions, can begin to develop a culture of philanthropy rather than just taking the traditional fundraising approach. We need to redefine philanthropy to make it more inclusive – it is not just for rich people anymore.

  5. I share your dream! I’m just starting a foundation in my son’s name, a public non-profit 501(c)3 charity. I will be starting with my own funds (not very much) and will be doing some fundraising. I am just starting out and I absolutely LOVE your post/blog above.

    Thank you!
    Teresa Woolson recently posted…Starting a New Non-ProfitMy Profile

  6. Claire, I would like to congratulate you on a work of Art. I have read this article and cannot help feeling ,that awareness of the human element is so much lacking in a lot of our communication with donors and supporters and yet you have identified it as being a crucial element in our communication. I think everybody involved in philanthropy should read this article slowly and with a very opened mind and a willingness to take from it, the necessary components to change the manner and techniques we presently use in order to embrace what philanthropy is all about “Love”. I have no doubt it would be transformational. May I wish you continued success throughout 2013.

    • Aw, shucks. Thanks so much for your kind words. It sometimes amazes me how easy it is to get so much in the weeds that we lose sight of the glorious, beautiful garden that is philanthropy. Some say our drive to help others is fundamental to our survival — more even than ‘survival of the fittest.’ If you’re interested, take a look at the work of Dacher Keltner of The Greater Good Institute affiliated with University of California at Berkeley. Take good care, Claire

  7. Wow, fantastic. In my next team meeting we will each be selecting one of these “dream” areas and discussing how we can achieve it.
    Thanks for helping lead that discussion Claire :-)

  8. Lesley Harris says:

    This post is excellent and very inspiring, a perspective all Non Profits should embrace ! Thank You

  9. Thank you so much. I just forwarded your link to all of my board of directors. I do believe this will inspire them for the new year.
    Anna Araujo recently posted…BGCELA Teens become DJ’s for a dayMy Profile

  10. This was beautiful. Thanks.
    David Sena recently posted…Leadership takes different driving styles? Are you going too fast?My Profile

  11. Claire,

    what a great way to start my week reading your post, especially as we are in the planning phase of our local fundraising campaign. I will share with my senior management team. Many thanks for taking the time to share your dreams.

    bonne journée


  12. Sean Dollard says:

    Great, empowering piece!

  13. I heartily agree with the essence of your piece, claire. Lets take it one step further and move away from the language of donors. Donors give their vital organs once they have passed away- a one way exchange of generosity not reciprocity. In the world of enlightened giving, we need investors and partners. People who share our dreams and provide funds, time, networks and influence to advance a common goal of shared passion.

    • I agree, but not necessarily for the reason you suggest. I just looked up the definition of donor and found this:
      A person who donates something, esp. money to a fund or charity.
      A person who provides blood for transfusion, semen for insemination, or an organ or tissue for transplantation.

      So, it’s both/and depending on the eye of the beholder. The reason I prefer “investor” or “giver” over “donor” is that we generally think of a donation as a ‘drop in the bucket’ or something small that we contribute. And when we’re done (as you say) we’re done. An “investment” is more active. Plus we tend to follow our investments and root for them to succeed.

      So thanks for calling this out!

  14. I love when I see people with passion. Passion inspires. If you are only in “fundraising” and focus on soliciting an amount of money, people will see through this. But, if you truly believe in Philanthropy and the ultimate goals and who/ what that money will benefit, people will support your cause. Great post!

  15. MAry theRese says:

    Thank you Claire for such an inspiring piece on philanthropy. It has come at a time when my NFP is reevaluating its whole attitude and approach to fundraising . It resonates so strongly with me as the CEO. Like the quote says you need to be the change you wish to see in the world.

  16. I embrace this. Thank you.

  17. Wow! I think I finally get it! This is coming from someone with more than 10 years in the nonprofit world.

  18. My organization hosted it’s first all-staff retreat for three days earlier this week. This arrived in my in-box over the weekend and I knew it was the way I wanted to begin the retreat. So grounding and so spot on for attaining our fundraising goals this year and for years to follow. Copies were distributed to everyone and we will be referencing this as we track our progress throughout the year. Thank you Clair!

    • You are more than welcome. If you get a chance, let me know how it’s going. And if I can be helpful in any other way, don’t hesitate to let me know.

  19. Dear Claire. Thank you for your wisdom and your writing gifts. I have learned through trying to raise money and awareness of Hunger, here in Atlanta, one very important lesson. My passion is not felt by all. I have approached millionaires, who are incredible community philanthropists, who do not feel that giving to Hunger fits their need to give. Yet these people are so generous to other needs. This was my most difficult lesson I had to accept dealing with donors. Please keep blogging. fondly, Dan
    dan appelrouth recently posted…Thanksgiving 2012My Profile

  20. Wow! Inspiration out the wazoo! Many thanks — I keep up with trends and lots of blog-posts to stay on top of my game. This goes way beyond technique and reaches deep inside to remind me why I’ve done this work for 40 years! Thank you so much.

  21. lynda hamilton says:

    This is really powerful and a great tool for our entire development dept to keep in the tool box. Thank you, Clare!


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