Posts tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

July 6, 2018

One of the Most Important Questions You Should Ask

Two recent mainstream news items, and one tweet about a charity, remind me of a powerful lesson I once learned from my father-in-law, Malcolm Rosenfeld. He taught me to ask myself the following important question before opening my mouth or taking action:

What is my objective?”

Now, before I illustrate the value of that question by reflecting on some news stories, I must warn you that the following examples include vulgar language. If you want to bypass the examples, you can skip down to the next boldfaced sentence several paragraphs below.

At The 72nd Annual Tony Awards (2018), actor Robert De Niro walked out on the stage after being introduced. He then said, “I’m gonna say one thing. Fuck Trump. It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump.’ It’s ‘Fuck Trump.’”

What was De Niro’s objective? If he wanted the approval and praise of the Tony audience, he succeeded when his remarks received a standing ovation. However, if he wanted to convince some Trump supporters or independent voters to support the political positions of the Democratic Party rather than President Donald Trump, I doubt he moved anyone. To the contrary; he may have actually strengthened their resolve.

Comedian Michelle Wolf voiced her displeasure with Ivanka Trump in a recent episode of Wolf’s Netflix series The Break. She said, “If you see Ivanka on the street, first call her Tiffany. This will devastate her. Then talk to her in terms she’ll understand. Say, ‘Ivanka, you’re like vaginal mesh. You were supposed to support women but now you have blood all over you and you’re the center of a thousand lawsuits.’”

What was Wolf’s objective? If she wanted to solidify her base of liberal viewers, I suspect she might have succeeded. With the publicity she received for her comment, she may have even attracted some new viewers who share her liberal views. However, if she wants to use her humor to change the political policies of the Trump Administration or to drive independent voters to support Democratic Party candidates and positions, she probably failed.

Whether you’re pro-Trump or anti-Trump is not the issue. What the two examples above demonstrate is the importance of defining objectives. If De Niro and Wolf wanted to diminish Trump’s political support – and I recognize that might not have been their objective — they flopped even as their fans cheered and laughed.

Let me explain. In 2016, I participated in a focus group involving independent voters. It was clear that personal attacks on Trump led many participants to be more likely to support him. By contrast, discussion of specific issues led people to thoughtfully consider which candidate better aligned with their own thinking. Based on my experience with the focus group, I wasn’t surprised when I looked at recent poll numbers.

Despite recent harsh comments by De Niro, Wolf, and countless others in recent weeks, the RealClear Politics polling average shows that Trump’s approval rating continues to oscillate above 50 percent, where it has been consistently since March 15, 2017.

While celebrities leave me wondering about their objectives, many nonprofit organizations also have me scratching my head. I recently read one puzzling example from The Whiny Donor (self-named) on Twitter:

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April 13, 2018

Why are Fundraising Results Missing the Mark?

The nonprofit sector has an unfortunate secret. While not a well-kept secret, it is nevertheless something that receives too little attention. So, let’s take a moment to shine a spotlight on the issue.

Overall, American philanthropy has remained at approximately two percent of Gross Domestic Product for over six decades, with the percentage bouncing between 1.6 and 2.3 percent, according to Giving USA. Every year when the amount of money donated to charities goes up, the nonprofit sector pats itself on the back even though it is merely keeping pace with GDP.

Despite the massive growth in the number of nonprofit organizations, the significant increase in availability of educational materials, the production of helpful research, the professionalization of the fundraising field, and the rise of new technologies, the nonprofit sector has failed to budge philanthropy relative to GDP.

Now, as a committee convened by The Giving Institute begins to consider ways to grow philanthropy beyond the two-percent-of-GDP mark, I’ve written an article for the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine, Advancing Philanthropy, that explores the challenge: “What Will It Take to Dramatically Increase Philanthropy?”

To answer that question, we need to understand how and why past attempts to do so have come up short, such as the insightful work of the Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs in the 1970s.

We also need to understand the broad societal cultural factors that are affecting philanthropy so that we can develop strategies for inspiring cultural change and/or adapt to factors beyond our control (e.g., decline in religious affiliation, erosion of social capital, drop in volunteerism, etc.). Furthermore, we need to understand the cultural issues within the nonprofit sector that block change and, ultimately, greater success.

We also must set a realistic, consensus goal for moving the philanthropic needle. While that goal should be bold, it should also be based on something other than a dream. A credible target mark will give us all something to shoot for.

As Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

In the long-run, [people] hit only what they aim at.”

While it will likely take at least a couple of years for The Giving Institute’s commission to do its work, you and I do not need to wait. There are things we can do now to begin to move closer to a more vital philanthropic mark, something greater than two percent of GDP:

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