Recently I was thinking about the word “DOMINATE.” It is a word that evokes a strong emotion. It’s powerful and demanding. However, I think most people, especially fundraisers, appreciate the use of the word.
Let’s Stop Focusing Exclusively On Charity
Charity is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. I understand when someone is in need the necessity to be charitable. If someone needs something to eat, it’s our collective obligation to our brothers and sisters to help.
What I’m saying, however, is that for many decades there has been an almost myopic focus on charity. What was missing was what the folks like Carnegie and Vanderbilt wanted to accomplish many years ago, philanthropy. They wanted to make a profound philanthropic difference in the circumstances and the underlying issues that drove the ills of society during that time.
In the 21st Century, we’re dealing with different issues, but we’re also facing some of the same. For example, poverty still exists, there’s a lack of quality education and economic inequality has become even more pronounced than it was in the time of Carnegie.
During the 1970’s, when the nonprofit sector began to grow, there were a lot of social scientists who entered the field. They focused on charity. They wanted to alleviate the present circumstances that existed in the lives of many. They tended not to focus on the core issues that may have led to poverty or a lack of quality education, for example.
That time has come and gone, and it’s a good thing. We’re going beyond having only a focus on charity to having a philanthropic focus, which is a broader view for humanity.
The Perfect Storm for Philanthropy
The world of philanthropy is being shaken.
Here’s some of what’s happening:
Millennials are not like the previous generations. This is an important group and they now outnumber the Baby Boomers. Millennials were handed a stiff dose of medicine from early on in their lives. They are the children of 9/11. They will likely not be wealthier than their parents and are the second generation in decline in terms of their lifetime income. They are distrusting of all the power centers. They don’t trust the government. They don’t trust business. They don’t trust nonprofits. They don’t trust anyone. They trust what they see – not what they’re told. That’s a key component of the shift that’s happening in philanthropy. If you keep an eye on what’s occurring, the majority of new major donors are now under the age of 40, and they’re all from the tech industry. That leads me to my second point.
Technology is completely transforming how we communicate, work and live. It’s happening now at such a rapid pace that what is “new” one year is supplanted with even newer technology the following year. This type of change and evolution is unprecedented in human history. It’s breaking down borders and existential walls that have existed in every area of human life. What’s more, the speed at which this is happening is only going to exponentially increase. We are now in a situation where the children who are currently preparing in our elementary schools and high schools are being prepared for jobs that don’t even exist in the present day. Think about it. The kids in school today, the majority of them, will have jobs in the future that do not exist today.
This is contributing to new thinking. The old ways of doing practically anything are seen as exactly that – old. Technology, a new generation and the breaking of the walls that are bringing in the voices of women and people of all backgrounds to center stage are contributing to this new thinking. With new voices and diversity, it’s only inevitable that you’ll get new ideas. And, in today’s world we have new platforms to amplify voices around the world through social media and new media. One of the key things that nonprofits have to understand is that nonprofits are no longer the only game in town, as I’ve said in the past. People can contribute to nonprofits and social enterprises. Essentially, whoever is able to demonstrate results with an innovative, creative and sensible approach to an issue will get the money.
We’re living a perfect storm. This has already started to change funding for nonprofits and how major donors, and even general donors, want to demonstrate their support – financial and otherwise.
This leads me back to the word “DOMINATE.” In today’s world, you want to dominate. That word doesn’t have to have bad connotations. In the feel good world of what used to be the nonprofit sector, many organizations where doing the same exact thing in a local neighborhood, for example. This was redundant and it ate into resources.
After the Great Recession, there was a consolidation of some nonprofit organizations. That will and should continue as leaders realize they have to compete more aggressively. Funders, the media and the public are looking for answers in today’s world. That means that if you’re looking to compete for dollars with the 10 other nonprofits in your community doing the same thing, you’re going to stay in place. You’re just perpetuating more of the same.
What you want to do is dominate the industry.
You want to be the absolute best. You want to lead an organization that everyone thinks about when they think of your particular issue or mission.