A Shift From Fundraising to Philanthropy: What We Really Need to Consider
I’ve been engaging donors to support important mission work, special projects and big galas for a few years now, and I have noticed the use of the word “philanthropy” instead of “fundraising.” It is not a bad approach, but it has the potential to shift many attitudes for varied reasons.
Philanthropy vs Fundraising
There are those who will distinguish the all-encompassing view of philanthropy as if it is a higher calling to our better human nature. It evokes happy feelings about helping people and supporting the greater good; whereas the word “fundraising” seems to engender an attitude of being in sales and a little more like getting the deal done, period. Twenty-first century organizations are taking the broader view. They want to make the largest impact, create true social change and solve huge problems. Does that mean that, as a fundraiser, we should abandon the idea of fundraising as what we do and call it “philanthropy” in order to make the ask feel more personal and engaging? The reality is that at the end the day, we need to deeply engage active supporters who will take action—and give money.
The question is, “Will use of the term fundraising versus philanthropy lower the standard of the impact and the important work of the profession?” I think not. The big question is whether or not the industry sees a need for this shift in order to validate the important work of raising funds to impact social and societal change. As fund-raisers, our role is three-fold: To increase social capital and promote civic engagement, to nurture relationships in order to foster giving and to increase and diversify the generosity of donors for our organizations and for the greater good. This does not sound like a sales person ready to close the deal, but a committed individual doing their job: Fundraising.
Fundraising Towards Philanthropy
Perhaps having a deeper understanding of meaning is a better aim. As we explore the difference between fundraising and philanthropy, I do not see the need to shift as a means to add value to the important function of what we do. However, as we examine the perspective, it is important to clarify both of the terms separately. Philanthropy can be described as charity, helping someone, giving to someone or a cause or doing good for the community.
Philanthropy is simply not helping someone you know; philanthropy is also helping someone you may not know. It is about the greater good. To be philanthropic, you must give without requiring something in
return; whereas fundraising means collecting money for a specific reason. Fundraisers collect money for many different causes. That is fundamentally what we do.
As fundraisers, I think we have done a great job at promoting a broad understanding that all giving is philanthropic in nature, and through that we are able to promote giving as an honorable endeavor. I challenge our profession to recognize that fundraising is a peripheral action, it is one of the methodologies used to engage donors in the act of philanthropy. Concluding that perhaps we should focus more on philanthropy as the end result and fundraising as the catalyst to get us there. Of course, I think we can all agree that philanthropy is a warmer word that calms that “fear of fundraising,” but for every action there is an equal, and optimistically, a greater philanthropic reaction. Given that reality, we can all agree it is okay to embrace the notice that we are fundraisers.