Posted by: Nathaniel | August 22, 2008

Should donors pay to learn to do good well?

Sean Stannard-Stockton initiated an interesting conversation on his blog Tactical Philanthropy (later picked up by the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Give and Take blog) about the difference between “giving” and “investing” as a mental model for philanthropy. He notices a shift occurring in the way donors conceptualize their giving from a ‘spending’ category to an ‘investment’ category, with a variety of positive implications ranging. Take a minute and read the whole list.

One skeptical commenter on Give and Take argued essentially that a shift to the language of investment had the potential to prioritize the needs of the giver over the receiving communities or organizations. It’s a valid point and always worth thinking about the positive and negative implications of giving philanthropists more control over their donations (as opposed to giving organizations and communities general funds).

I think, though, that the move from ‘giving’ to ‘investing’ has huge potential to improve the impact of philanthropy. Particularly, I’m interested in the idea that this shift makes donors more willing to devote time and resources to learning how to be more effective givers. In a follow-up post, Stannard-Stockton notes that consumers don’t like to pay for information about how to buy things, but huge industries exist around providing investors with tips and tools.

I think dynamic systems for engaged donor education are essential to better harnessing the qualitatively huge but divided and uncoordinated state of American philanthropy. We’ve experimented with this sort of education with our Youth Leadership in Connective Philanthropy program (run in partnership with the Chicago Global Donors Network). I’m even more interested in how web-based networks for social change communities (such as could provide a platform for engaged philanthropic education.

So what do you think? Should donors be willing to pay to learn how to do good?



  1. I think they should have the opportunity. I hate to bring up the analogy of comparing nonprofits to businesses, but if the donor were a stockholder looking to invest in a company, they would study a variety of factors before investing their money. Why would you not want to encourage that level of donor engagement with your organization? I think that it fits in well with the growing adoption of social media so that organizations can engage donors.

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