Belief–and truth

Many of us become our own worst enemies when we begin to believe our own press releases.  Nonprofit leaders are no exception.  Witness the recent hang-wringing and urgent calls to action regarding proposed changes in the charitable deduction and possible cuts in public grants to charities.  Such concerns are often manifestations of a fundamental pessimism regarding the motives of philanthropists and a scarcity mentality—if you get yours I won’t get mine.

Let’s set the record straight on both counts.  First, although I believe it is a noble and important impulse to enshrine the value of philanthropy in our tax code, research consistently demonstrates that receiving a tax deduction for a gift is not a serious motivator for philanthropists.  This finding is confirmed in my own experience as an encourager of giving—a fundraiser, if you will.

Second, research also has shown that philanthropy is elastic.  For us non-economists, that means that the amount of money given philanthropically is not fixed, but rather is a function of the level of engagement of the donors with those nonprofits that they are inclined to support.  What’s more, we’ve not even approached the theoretical maximum.  The idea that nonprofits are “competing for scarce dollars” is a red herring.

Where is truth?  Principle 1 of The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising® is “Donors are the Drivers™”.  Bank on it.  Listen to what your donors are telling you—not your preconceived beliefs, however strongly held.  Stop and think the next time you’re tempted to think or say “don’t give me the facts, I know what I believe.”

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