The philanthropic key: transform your champion, not the packaging of your ask

The Daily Tell shares a report about two new sites for which financial giving is a P- (Participation-) level activity: and

Both sites operate according to the same principle: Encourage donors to give by providing a plethora of project options across a range of causes through which a visible, reportable impact can be made on a single person for a relatively small gift. After giving, the donor receives a report within a few days detailing how their gift helped that single person, and they are encouraged to share that report with their friends.

The sites are clean and easy to navigate through and understand. Sanitary even.

The projects are short-term, high-impact, and understandable without external reference to a nonprofit organization.

The low-dollar price of entry for giving is designed to appeal to younger donors with limited funding resources. Trevor Neilson, President of Global Philanthropy Group sees this “democratization of philanthropy” as quite the trend:

“Just a few years ago philanthropy was really seen as something that rich people do for poor people,” he told the news provider. “The trend we’re seeing now is that everyone can be philanthropic, and can organize themselves around issues they care about.”

I find myself wanting to like the sites and yet, in the end, unable to do so.

There are all kinds of good things I could say about them, since they embody several of the principles of Transformational Giving. Each project presented is a pretty fair example of a Signature Participation Project. Granted, throwing hundreds of them at a potential donor at any one time calls to mind the fundamental marketing dictum that 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 0, which is to say that choice paralyzes and the authors of these sites might be better off picking one really strong Signature Participation Project and building a single site around that, such as I even like the fact that these sites view Participation as having a strong financial component, an approach that many ministries think is implausible.

But I think what leaves me so nonplussed by both of these sites is that, in the end, I think they are answering a question that I’m not sure anyone is really asking.

Both sites are predicated on the belief that what causes people not to give is that:

  1. They’re not sure that their small amount of money can make a difference.
  2. They want to see timely visual proof of the one person their gift is helping, and this is not provided by most charities.

Certainly neither of these points is unimportant; people obviously want to know that they can send a small amount of money and have it make a visible difference.

But are those really the two barriers that prevent most people from giving?

Peter Singer might say yes, and the Nikolas Kristof Op-Ed might tend in that direction.

But I myself would ultimately say no–that overcoming  these two barriers is necessary but not sufficient.

The barrier that must be overcome in order to grow people in relation to the causes we love is internal, not external.

Every day provides every person on earth with the opportunity to make a significant difference in the life of someone else. It can be done for very little money–most often with no money at all. And the results don’t even need to take days to show up via email–instead, they are immediately apparent on the face of the person we help.

Why don’t we take advantage of such opportunities? Because they are not attractively packaged for us and sanitized for our protection?


But John suggests something else:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Detach giving from a rich knowledge of Christ’s love for us, says John, and we will miss the opportunity to give no matter how attractive and clever the form.

Are the giving opportunities you offer to champions aligned to an awareness of Christ’s love for them…or the timely and well-packaged needs of others?

Both have existed since the dawn of time, and yet only one has yielded true transformation in the area of generosity.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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4 Responses to The philanthropic key: transform your champion, not the packaging of your ask

  1. This is a paradigm shift in thought for me. As a photographer, I am always concerned with the “packaging.” This takes it up a notch. Thanks.

    “Are the giving opportunities you offer to champions aligned to an awareness of Christ’s love for them…or the timely and well-packaged needs of others?”

    • EFoley says:

      That sentence takes on a whole new meaning from a photographer’s perspective, Gary–thanks for opening my eyes to that. I stink at photography personally, so it’s uber-cool to think that I’ve collaborated with a photographer transformationally!

  2. John Lee says:

    You know Eric, it is my impression that many direct mail campaigns are “timely and well-packaged” to meet the needs of others. As we served together, you continued to emphasize the need for follow up on the responses of direct mail. As I process what you write in this entry, a crucial step in the transformational component of direct mail is immediate follow up with the donor. Unless we get “under the skin” to understand what was going on in the mind of the donor, and they confirm it to us and to their own mind, it won’t help them grapple with how and why they expressed Christ’s love.

    • EFoley says:

      You got it, John–the direct mail piece should never be thought of as the complete communication package. It is always most effective as part of a wider communication stream that includes personal contact, not only after but ideally before as well.

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