More than a feeling: Six ways to grow (and measure your own growth) in giving that aren’t about feelings

Philanthrobloggers are in the midst of a genuinely uninspiring discussion on whether donors should make donations based on the merits of a nonprofit organization’s work or on the basis of their own feelings.

I describe this discussion as genuinely uninspiring because it treats donors like dunderheads and nonprofit organizations like diligent and dedicated public servants.

Holden Karnofsky’s blog at GiveWell is a particularly notable stronghold of the donors-as-dunderheads camp.

In his post entitled Perspectives on Donor Irrationality, Holden approvingly highlights the quotes of Jeanne Panossian, who, in commenting on a couple of Holden’s donors-as-dunderheads posts, wrote:

  • On donor illusions: ” … It takes extraordinary ethical fortitude to openly tell people how complicated your organization is, normally a donor has made their basic decision in the first 15 to 30 seconds of a conversation …”
  • On the administrative expense ratio: “…While I love to talk all day about [my charity’s impact], I have learned it is not worth my while. Waving a flag and telling people how we pay for our paper clips yields me more funds faster …”

Donors yielding up their funds in a 15 to 30 second conversation arising from their frenzied passion for paperclips?

I can honestly say that I have met not one person in my more than twenty years of work in coaching champions for whom that would be even a remotely accurate caricature.

One of Holden’s other commenters heroically takes on the burden of educating the great unwashed donors of the world to better understand the needs and intricate workings of how we nonprofit types must run our organizations as we change the world:

If the donors don’t understand, it’s the responsiblity of the entire non-profit sector to educate them.


Perhaps when donations drop, donor-dunderhead talk rises. After all, if you’re not giving to my organization, what’s wrong with you?

My own experience has been that individuals want to champion causes and be able to effect real change in the world. Ironically, that puts them in competition with many nonprofits, who prefer to champion causes and effect real change in the world but who need individuals’ money to be able to do that. So they have to convince individuals:

  • Don’t try this change-the-world stuff at home.
  • It’s dangerous work, better left to professionals.
  • We’re the best professionals for the job.
  • Your giving card is enclosed. Because, after all,
  • It’s safer for the world and more effective in general for you to impact causes indirectly, by giving to intelligent, effective types like us.
  • By the way, did we mention that we don’t use a lot of paperclips?

Holden wrote a post that shocked me in which he contended that nonprofits focus too much attention on givers. (My experience has been that givers are shocked when nonprofits send them a timely receipt and give them a thank you call, but I digress.)

I suggested to Holden that it was eminently possible–yea verily, even advisable–that nonprofits need to focus more on giver-related measurements, and that such measurements need not–yea verily, even should not–be focused on a giver’s feelings about giving.

(TG Principle 5 says, for example, “A Transformational Giving relationship between a champion and an organization is primarily a peer-level accountability relationship, not merely a friendship or a mutual admiration society.”)

In response to my comment, Holden replied:

Eric: if a charity serves donors by doing a better job on its programs, I’m all for that.


Our whole nonprofit sector seems to suffer from a crisis of imagination when it comes to thinking about how we can do a better job coaching our champions about giving. When the best we can do is to suggest that we need to better educate donors about why they should feel good about giving towards overhead and not just program, that’s not good, friend.

Philanthrobloggers are bogged down with the idea that donors give primarily based on friendship, feelings, and flash.

I beg to disagree vehemently with that perspective, while admitting and asserting at the same time that (TG Principle #9) giving is learned, not latent in donors (whom I prefer to call champions). So if givers give to friendship, feelings, and flash…where do ya suppose they learnt that from?

That’s why I’m launching into a new six-part series on this blog entitled, More than a feeling: Six ways to grow (and measure your own growth) in giving that aren’t about feelings. Because ultimately there are not donors and nonprofit organizations but truly only champions seeking to impact causes, and if we have not first learned individually how to grow and measure our own growth in giving and impacting causes, we will not fare so well when it comes our turn to serve at the helm of nonprofits seeking to do that same thing.

Series begins next post. Until then, I’m off to play with my paperclips.

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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2 Responses to More than a feeling: Six ways to grow (and measure your own growth) in giving that aren’t about feelings

  1. Pingback: More than a feeling, part I: Give away an increasing percentage of your income each year « Transformational Giving

  2. Pingback: To Tithe or Not To Tithe: That is Not the Question | Transformational Giving

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