Friday, December 9, 2011

Reflections on Giving

What better time to discuss the state of giving in Central Texas than right around the holidays, the season of giving. And just four weeks into my role as Leadership Austin’s new Fund Development Director, what better topic to have as my first Engage Speaker Series breakfast. As you read in the previous blog post, our panel was an esteemed group: Jeff Garvey of Austin Community Foundation, Gerry Tucker of A Legacy of Giving, Patsy Woods Martin of I Live Here, I Give Here and Lynn Meredith, noted philanthropist and president of the MFI Foundation, with Jim Spencer of KXAN News as our moderator.

The discussion did not shy away from acknowledging the tough economic times and the impact on giving.  However, as Jeff Garvey reported, giving turned in a strong figure in 2010 of nearly $300 billion. And while the corporate world has been hard hit, he was quick to point out that corporate giving has remained stagnant for the past decade at only 5% of that giving total. So where do nonprofits look towards for donations? Individuals make up roughly three-quarters of total giving. From here, the discussion turned especially interesting and insightful.

2010 Charitable Contributions
*Estimate provided by the Foundation Center
Source: Giving USA 2011

While the discussion on philanthropy was approached from both the donor and nonprofit perspectives, what it all boils down to is the same: passion. As Jeff so eloquently shared, “Good giving is at the intersection of the heart and the mind.”  For me, the themes that kept bubbling up were the same as Leadership Austin’s four core values. Here below are our core values and how the panelists unsuspectingly tied into them:

Community Trusteeship: This value is core to the existence of nonprofit organizations; however, perhaps we need more work helping less-experienced donors feel this same level of trusteeship. Gerry Tucker’s work with A Legacy of Giving is a shining example of this by teaching children philanthropy at a very early age. As she said, it’s just not logical to ask people to write a check to your organization without first asking that person to get involved with your organization. In addition to nonprofit leaders needing to be trained to be good fundraisers, people need to be trained to be good donors.

Inclusiveness: Towards the end of the discussion, the panelists tackled the question of how donors can be involved and feel as though their small dollar contributions make a difference. Several years ago while interning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (a multi-million dollar private nonprofit organization), I listened to the head of External Affairs say that “there are no small gifts”. That stuck with me and informs my approach to development. As Patsy Woods Martin said that morning, “no matter the size of the gift, you are a philanthropist.” The sooner we can shift thinking away from “donor” equals “large sum gifts”, the sooner we begin to understand that there are no racial, economic, gender, etc. boundaries to giving.

More on Leadership Austin's Core Values

Collaborative Decision-Making: Every discussion about nonprofit organizations in Central Texas points out that there is an overabundance of nonprofits in our region. Lynn Meredith cited the early 2000s, when nonprofits really came together in those tough economic times to collaborate or join efforts. Perhaps we again have the right climate to make this possible again. In any case, donors like to see organizations partnering and working together in ways that make sense and show that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Personal Responsibility: It is no surprise that one of my favorite quotes of the breakfast was Jeff Garvey saying that people need to “get into the habit of writing checks” and that everyone should be a volunteer. I heard Ray Benson once say that with the limited time we have on this earth, we all have a responsibility to say “yes” as often as we can. Each of us must play a part in making a personal impact of our community.

Maybe it’s because 2012 is fast approaching, but this week’s Engage breakfast has really made me reflect, and I encourage the same for you. Why don’t we all think about what more we can be doing, whether it be as donors or fundraisers, or as corporate employees, public servants or nonprofit staff. ‘Tis the season to give … a little more.

1 comment:

  1. At that breakfast, Lynn Meredith said that an organization's volunteer coordinator is an important fundraising position. That's gotten me thinking a lot about how donating time intersects with donating cash. How can an engagement strategy (whether that's Leadership Austin or River Watch) encourage both?