Experience, Edification And Electronics
By Tiffany Rider - Assistant Editor
October 8, 2013 - The model of philanthropy, an act of giving to charitable organizations and causes in support of the needs of humanity, is evolving as new philanthropists emerge with a different perspective on giving.
It is similar to the case of the baby boomers, who are beginning to retire, and the up-and-comers of the Millennials – two generations with somewhat opposing views on work, relationships and life.
Jeffrey Wilcox is president and CEO of the Third Sector Company, an organization dedicated to facilitating leadership continuity for the non-profit sector. Wilcox, with his finger on the pulse of charitable giving trends, told the Business Journal, “When I look at the changing scene of philanthropy, there are certain variables that are dominating the philanthropic scene.”
Those variables are, in no particular order: entrepreneurs, experience, edification and electronics. In each of those categories, he said, philanthropy is experiencing change.
To confirm these trends are occurring in the greater Long Beach area, the Business Journal asked leaders of various charitable organizations and foundations to comment on the “4 Es.”
Respondents include: Capt. Moy Hernandez of The Salvation Army Southern California Division, Long Beach Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Kelly Ruggirello, St. Mary Medical Center Foundation President Drew Gagner and Deborah Goldfarb, executive director of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Long Beach & West Orange County.
The human environment today is incredibly entrepreneurial, full of people who like to get involved. “They didn’t fit into systems; they wanted to create systems,” Wilcox said. “They are programmed to see a need and come up with a way to meet that need.”
When a non-profit accepts his or her philanthropy it is opening the door for that person to become involved in improving the non-profit, sometimes to the chagrin of the organization and its board.
“This is the quintessence of the successful entrepreneur: if they do not deliver what the consumer or customer needs, their business venture is dead in the water,” Gagner observed. “Similarly, if a non-profit is not user- and donor-focused, their programs will typically atrophy, wither and wane.”
For The Salvation Army, Hernandez said entrepreneurs’ contributions impacting a non-profit is a matter of preference and maybe even age group, but not a disruption. “If a donor would like to attach clear expectations on their donations, we are more than happy to comply,” he said. “It is their right to designate and require how their specific donation will be used.”
In some ways, the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation views entrepreneurs’ philanthropy as an advantage, as long as an effective partnership is built, according to Goldfarb. “Today, more significant donors want to create their own models, or force non-profits to be more accountable to the outcomes the donors perceive as most important,” she said.While the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors includes several business executives from the local community, Ruggirello said it is important to maintain synergy between the creative entrepreneur philanthropist and the non-profit’s core mission. “It is critical to maintain ethical fundraising and governance practices,” she said.
Philanthropists today are looking for an experience, or an opportunity to see their generosity at work, Wilcox said. “They want to be seen as part of that cause rather than throwing money at an organization that they can’t feel or touch.”
Those who seek a value-added experience with their philanthropic endeavors “may wish to employ their expertise in a very applicable way,” Gagner said, such as a real estate developer seeking to help build a project with a team.
Goldfarb said she feels donors have always wanted an experience, but “it’s no longer enough for us just to have an ongoing relationship with the donor,” she said. “We also need to make sure they can clearly see how their gift makes a difference.”
At The Salvation Army, Hernandez said many donors simply prefer to send in a donation, but, time-to-time, some donors “want to roll up their sleeves and join the efforts.” The same goes for Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, where an experience is had when donors invest in the organization for generations.
“Their lives have been dedicated to supporting and attending many Symphony experiences, including concerts and education programs,” Ruggirello said. “Our donors feel like they are leaving a meaningful legacy by making an investment of time and resources to the Symphony.”
Anonymous was the common name of a contributor who gave not expecting anything in return. In today’s giving world, Wilcox said there are more philanthropists who want to give not only to make something happen but to get something out of it too. “It’s just the way our society is now,” he said. “They want to leave their mark.”
Gagner agreed. “This is not due to an era of overweening egos, but rather a deeper understanding by today’s volunteers that by sharing the good that some are doing publicly, a palpable and tangible ‘challenge’ is set to others to emulate and grow their own involvement,” he said.
While this may be true with some organizations, Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and The Salvation Army continue to receive a majority of anonymous donations – donor information is not shared with the public.
“We receive their checks or contributions, therefore we know who they are and keep track of it, but it is very rare that we get a donor that wants us to publicize their gift in any way,” Hernandez said.
Of those who support the symphony, Ruggirello said, “I have found a wonderful sense of humility amongst the Long Beach donors.”
To Goldfarb, edification is more related to competition in the marketplace because when a donor is named and recognized, he or she is more likely to have loyalty to that organization. “I still believe that major donors are most interested in the satisfaction of funding their passions,” she said.
The slope on online giving, online fundraising and online community building is very steep, according to Wilcox, and it continues to soar. St. Mary Medical Center Foundation, as with other organizations, is actively engaged in social media and other tools for online communication, Gagner said.
The technology era has non-profits dealing both with its base of donors who prefer in-person or paper-based relationships and donors who prefer following blogs, watching videos and giving with the click of a mouse.
“It can be very difficult to appeal to all when some people are expecting a printed newsletter and others would prefer to give online and don’t want a phone call,” Wilcox said. “In my opinion, most non-profits are a baby boomer model. That’s what drives the entrepreneur crazy.”
While Ruggirello said she appreciates the success of online campaigns using tools like social media, “fundraising is best done face-to-face, because people give to people.” Goldfarb agreed, noting that her organization tends to benefit the most from in-person fundraising.
The Salvation Army’s largest influx of donations remains through mail appeals and direct donation, though Hernandez said, “We understand that with the changing times, the giving pattern may change.” So far that has been true – the-per donor giving rate of electronic donations is higher than regular mail appeals, he said.