Posted by: Nathaniel | July 22, 2008

Who will take on donor education?


  1. We do indeed have a long way to go. One question is who is responsible for donor education? Who will pay for it? What donors see themselves and donors and want education?

    There is a whole field of philanthropic advisors working to assist…and fabulous resources like Inspired Philanthropy (disclosure–I am co-founder of Inspired Legacies with the author). For youth and young adults, there is Resource Generation and the Making Money Make Change conference. For adults, there is Bolder Giving. For children,there is youthgive. There are fantastic women’s donor groups and other identity-based giving groups and circles. There are advisors trained in asking the values question (Fithian). Plus there are chartered advisors in philanthropy (CAP). Still, only a small percentage of wealthy are reached through these channels. Donor education may come from community foundations and transformative or social change foundations like Changemakers or Crossroads Funds. Donor education has radically changed and grown in the last 30 years–for “wealthy” givers.

    For the “small” donors which actually make up a significant portion of giving–collectively–donor education comes from peer groups, giving circles, and more and more it comes from online social networks. But to truly unleash generosity, we need a cultural shift whereby, as a culture, we value the impact of philanthropy (see Greater Good by Claire Gaudiana for scope of impact). And value our individual and collective ability to be a contribution. The meaning one gets from a known impactful gift is truly priceless and deeply transformative. It is the balm to our need to define ourselves. It is the glue that brings us together. We are the gifts we have given.

    And when we begin to see philanthropy, truly, as love of our brothers which can come in many forms, we will see the real wealth we have. And Giving USA won’t be able to come anywhere near to tracking that depth and breadth of wealth. And still, I agree, we could give, so much more, if we only knew better how, for what, and why.

  2. Nathaniel, good job explaining why “low hanging fruit” can have such impact. I agree with NurtureGirl that it is a cultural shift that needs to occur. That’s one of the reasons I have talked about media and philanthropy on my blog. It seems to me that we are seeing that cultural shift happen. If the history of wealth management is relevant to the “future history” of philanthropy (as I believe it is), then it makes sense to expect that services will first be targeted to the wealthy and then come down market so that in the not too distant future, individuals of all (or let’s say most) levels of wealth will have access to philanthropy information and education.

  3. […] Who will take on donor education? « Do Good Well Nathaniel Whittemore examines my posts on “low hanging fruit”. (tags: philanthropy) […]

  4. All excellent point~ How can donors have impact with their philantrhopic efforts if they are in reaction mode to sad stories or agencies that have the loudest voice. It takes both personal reflection and strategic education to go deeper and play a part in social transformation and impact.

    The Social Venture Partnership movement is built on this idea that the small to mid-size donors want to see a more long-term impact with their giving. By coming together, they can focus their dollars, education and energy to make a greater difference.

    Their Philanthropy Education revolves around topics that are tactical (how to give; what to give: assessing organizations); contextual (how to work with nonprofits; cultural competency; collaboration); and issue based (statistics; environmental and cultural influences, policy and advocacy).

    I am biased, as i am an ED of one of these partnerships. But with 15 years in the social sector, it is refreshing to see the intentional focus of these donors and the massive leveraging abilities of the Network. …A likely partner in seeking out philanthropy education either as an individual, institution, professional, or potential partner!

  5. I was glad to read down through the comments on this post and to see Stacy’s comment about Social Venture Partners, as the network immediately came to mind for me as I was reading the post and the follow-up comments. To me, it’s a question of moving donors along the awareness-knowledge-attitude-action continuum of being more strategic/engaged/impactful with their giving.

    Awareness of that there are differences between nonprofits, that not all donations are used effectively, that you have the right to ask questions…

    Knowledge of what are the right questions to ask, when; how and why nonprofits operate differently than businesses; one’s various options for giving, ways to think about one’s philanthropy more strategically…

    Attitudinal shifts about why and how to focus one’s giving, what gifts to give when, what you are seeking in return, and what personal due diligence to do before doing so.

    Action – how one engages through his/her philanthropy.

    As I think about it, the continuum is really a loop. People learn by doing, right? That’s one of the many things that is so great about the SVP model; donor learning comes not just through the educational forums, but also through direct involvement with the “investees.”

    It would be interesting to map out donor education endeavors along the continuum. Something like I Live Here I Give Here ( in Austin gets at the awareness end of the spectrum, whereas something like SVP has more impact on the other 4 points. People often join SVP because they are aware that there is a better way to give back than what they are currently doing… and they want to learn more.

    In the interest of full disclosure of my bias, as well, I was involved with the SVP network for 5 years as both an ED and consultant.

  6. Extremely Simple Low Hanging Fruit – Particularly for Schools

    I for one actually believe in the “wisdom of crowds” and the basic goodness of people, and it’s in the realm of “donor education” where the non-profit sector has royally screwed up.

    It’s spent the last 50 years convincing people that “program expenses” are good that “administrative expenses” (which I prefer to “overhead” it’s less pejorative) are bad, and now when I talk to fundraisers and executive leadership they bemoan how hard it is to get unrestricted funds.

    Well, what do you expect when you spend half a century training your donors that this a bad idea?

    The fact that workplace giving dollars are unrestricted is just one of the many benefits of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). To learn more, go to and request the special report.

    Here is an example of low hanging fruit, is a type of ‘donor education” that would not cost anyone an additonal dollar, but it would still have a huge impact.

    At least in the Washington, DC area the majority of large grocery chains, Safeway, Giant, and at least one large department store (Target) have programs where you can sign up to support the schools in your region, where some small percentage of your purchases go to the school.

    Many schools themselves have a pretty decent donor education message to the parents of their students, with step by step instructions on how to sign up, what the code is for their school, etc.

    Where the school’s donor education falters however, is that there is usually not a good method for getting these instructions out to the broader community, including everyone who does not have kids in school.

    If just 10% of the residents without kids in school would sign up for these programs, it would help out the school age children, and if you think your local school gets plenty of references, you can choose to support one in a different area.

    It’s low hanging fruit, but since it’s not an issue of conflict, mainstream media will never report it, and schools in general don’t have ways to reach the broader community.

    Bill Huddleston, CFC Expert

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