Purely Practical SMIT for January: Philanthropy, Not Fundraising – How to Begin the Transformation

Autumn leaves changing color
Change happens

Here comes this month’s *SMIT (Single Most Important Thing I have to tell you):

I’m still using the word fundraising.  In fact, my most recent post was To Sell is Human; To Give, Divine – Why We’re All in Fundraising Now.  I received a lot of feedback (mostly embracing) on the first post in my 2013 Series: Philanthropy; Not Fundraising.  But there’s evidently some confusion.  So, let’s clairify.

If you want to move from a culture of transactions to one of transformation don’t get bogged down worrying about semantics! You say potato; I say potahto… a rose by any other name… It’s the concept I’m hoping you’ll grasp. The point is to come from a place of love; not need. A place that centers on our donor; not us. A place that is deeply relational; not one-sided.

Let me share a few comments I received and contribute my thoughts:

“Philanthropy is what donors do with their money. We are the charity (or the non-profit) that benefits from THEIR philanthropy.”

Philanthropy comes from the Greek and means love of humankind. Charity comes from the Greek “caritas” which means to care. We generally think of loving as deeper and longer-lasting than caring. That’s why it’s so powerful to come from a place of love in all that we do. But I certainly hope you embrace anyone who wants to be ‘charitable’ or ‘philanthropic’ towards your organization.

 “As Associate Director of Philanthropy I was confronted by a donor who gave me quite the dressing down about having the word “philanthropy” in my title. She was very much of the mind that a “charity” had no business hiding behind such a word – that, in essence – the word belonged to philanthropists.”  I’ve heard this too.  Also, people think only the Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegies of the world can be philanthropists. Who said you have to be wealthy?!

Let me add to the definition of “philanthropy.” Robert Payton (the nation’s first full-time Professor of Philanthropic Studies and one of the founders of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University) defined it as: “Voluntary action for the public good.” I’ve always loved this definition, because every word is impactful. It’s voluntary (no one is being coerced). It’s action (something is actually being done, whether it’s service or an investment of money) and it’s all directed “for the public good.”  Certainly this definition embraces the philanthropists as well as the facilitators of philanthropy.

“A critical aspect appears to be understanding why people act.” Amen.
“Philanthropy” engages people.” Yes!

Engagement really is at the heart of the matter; all of philanthropy is based in values. People have different values (some want to help children; others animals; others education, the environment, the arts… and so on). Within the values universe, it’s our job to convey where we sit/what we do/why what we do is necessary/ and that we’re effective doing it. Our next job is to uncover folks who share the values our organization enacts. This is what is commonly called “development”. Finally, once a good common ground is found, we make the match! We ask for the investment that will assure the values are enacted and the donor’s passions are fulfilled. This is fundraising. It’s making the match.

“The act of giving / helping another is one of the most powerful feelings we humans get to experience – it can light us up inside for hours. The feeling influences our subsequent actions with others considerably, the potential ripple effect is enormous. To me, charities are the best place to sell this feeling.”  Couldn’t have said it better.

A word about ‘sales.’ I commend to you all Daniel Pink’s new book: To Sell is Human. Essentially, we’re all in sales. And it’s not a dirty word. Especially when we’re persuading people to do something they already want to do. So often folks truly want to make a difference; they simply don’t know how to go about it. They want to help the homeless, but it may feel futile to give a hand-out to every beggar on the street. Can we show them a better way? A more fulfilling way? If so, we meet their needs as well as the needs of our constituents.

“I believe that when philanthropy is understood to be a true partnership and the organization understands that listening to the donor is just as important as talking about its own needs, something meaningful can happen for both parties. And, ideally, that relationship only deepens and becomes one that can last a lifetime.”

A word about ‘relationships.’  For years we’ve paid lip service to relationship-building in fundraising.  But we too often thought of it in the back of our minds, with a lower case ‘r’.  Now it’s got to be top of mind, with a capital ‘R’ and in bright lights. Simply put, if you want to get and retain donor-investors these days, you must, must, must build donor-centered relationships. Be kind to your supporters.

“It really is about changing habits and thinking. Unfortunately, in the heat of meeting short-term goals and client needs, we (and Boards) tend to forget.”  

“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.”  Believe.

Fundraising is servant to philanthropy. It helps us fulfill the values we seek to enact in the world. It doesn’t stand on its own. That’s why we need to do some reframing. People love philanthropy. It’s fundraising they don’t like. Let’s help folks do what they love to do.

I am eager to keep finding discussions like this about what might be happening along the lines of philanthropy moving from being about remediation to more about transformation and less about the money, more about purpose (humanity).”

PLEASE:  Add to the discussion! What’s your SMIT?

Want to Get the Keys to Unlock Philanthropy?

A few simple tweaks to how you're doing things can make a huge difference in your results.
A few simple tweaks to how you’re doing things can make a huge difference in your results.

The newly expanded 7 Clairification Keys to Unlock Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential offers a wealth of materials to help you develop the necessary mindset, and supporting infrastructure, to show donor-investors what’s in it for them to affiliate with you.  This 42-page e-book is broken into seven sections. Each includes one or more worksheets or exercises to help you put concepts into action. Some of the worksheets are intended as individual exercises; a few are suited to groups. And you also receive a Resource Guide with a ton of useful links. If you don’t find it useful, I offer a 30-day, no-questions-asked, money back guarantee.  What’s to lose? Get it here!

This post is part of the 2013 Philanthropy, Not Fundraising Series.
Flickr Photo by Andreas Schaefer

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About Claire

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. “We make a living by what we earn, we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill

  2. engagement and values…that is exactly what it is about. that is why we do what we do; because we believe it is important.

    thanks for an engaging piece….


  1. […] Philanthropy is fundamentally social.  It’s about love. What could be more transformational? When you move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”). you become a philanthropy facilitator. You move from enacting transactions to enabling transformation. […]

  2. […] your mission continues. Fully embrace this shared obligation and intentionally work at building an internal culture of philanthropy. When you do, you’ll put yourself in the best position to survive and […]

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