Philanthropy is a powerful force for good in this country. Its role in American society dates back to early colonial days and is a unique element of our culture.
Scholar and author Claire Gaudiani writes and lectures about one of the first documented gifts in American history. In 1643, long before the founding of our nation, a donation was made by a woman to Harvard College to provide a scholarship for poor students. Because of the £100 gift from Lady Mowlson, access to higher education would be different than it was in Europe. Nearly 400 years later, donors continue to establish scholarships so that students from diverse backgrounds have an opportunity to learn.
The impact of giving in our country is profound — $450 billion was donated in 2019 according to Giving USA, fueling large institutions and small grassroots organizations. As consultants, we witness the connection between charities and donors through our work and are proud to serve the nonprofit sector.
However, there have been several instances calling certain fundraising practices into question, particularly in the realm of politics.
While unscrupulous behavior can be found in all aspects of professional life, we feel compelled to reflect on fundraising and the ethical standard upon which every professional fundraiser should hold themselves accountable.
We are often inspired by the first line of the Donor Bill of Rights:
“PHILANTHROPY is based on voluntary action for the common good.”
When philanthropy is voluntary that means it cannot be compulsory. Those who use a tone of obligation, such as “I need your money now” messaging, are breaching the ethos inherit in the Donor Bill of Rights.
For donors to give voluntarily, they must be able to trust the people and the organizations they work with and support, and that their gift will be used for the stated purpose.
We have reflected on that trust in a previous column, and we are reminded about it with recent headlines. Donors have rights and the public has expectations of contributions serving a purpose that advances the greater good.
Let’s remind ourselves of that transformational gift early in our country’s history and use that act of generosity as inspiration for what can be.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO