Philanthropic climate change: Money no longer grows on trees

How do responsibly run, major non-profits raise money in today’s climate without crying “emergency?” Or do they have to?

iStock_moneyIn the past few months, I’ve been involved professionally and as a volunteer in a number of fundraising events and campaigns.

The good news is that people are still giving, quite generously, to organizations and individuals in need.

But the landscape of individual giving looks dramatically different, thanks to the economic downturn of 2008-9.

Most of us know someone who has lost what he or she thought was a secure job. We know someone struggling, or are struggling ourselves, with health insurance payments as high as 25 percent of take-home pay. We know people who couldn’t afford insurance or were refused it and who are now being crushed by bills for treatment of cancer or heart attack. Many of us know small community organizations, or tiny local businesses, that can’t pay their rent. Many of us who have traveled to third world countries are haunted by the difference in resources and opportunities, especially for women and ethnic minorities.

My observation is that in this economic climate, those who have good jobs and extra money are using their resources to help individuals and small organizations to address specific, immediate, and time-critical problems. (Note focus of Jolkona, a fundraising foundation website focused on attracting a new generation of “passionate” donors who want “connection” and “involvement” with recipients.)

This is not good news for many established non-profit organizations. Quite a few of them have evolved to provide deep, complex, well though-out  structures for communities — from arts education and social services to historic preservation and environmental policy. But they don’t deal in heart-rending emergencies, or enable donors to finance quick, visible solutions.

How can these major non-profits compete for the donor dollar in today’s climate — without crying “emergency?” Or should they?

Author: Karen Anderson

To paraphrase Mark Morris, "I'm a writer; I write!"

One thought on “Philanthropic climate change: Money no longer grows on trees”

  1. I don’t know what they should do.

    But there is an opportunity, which hopefully some charity somewhere can seize. And that is that lately, charities have a surplus of volunteered time, relative to the level of donated cash. If those volunteers have technical skills, then this is the moment to get that software written, and get that database organized.

    The problem is that a better-organized charity might (say) win more lawsuits, but it probably isn’t any better at feeding the poor. An odd crossroads.


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