Donors and Their New Adventures in Giving, part I

It seems like daily I’m running across blog posts, articles, and books that tell stories about ordinary people committing to give to charity in unusual ways.

  • George Crankovic turned me on to the story of Toby Ord, the philosophy prof at Oxford who has created quite a stir in England–though as I previously wrote, I think I’m far more excited about this than George is. Here’s an article about Professor Ord that describes how (and why) he is planning to give away “more than a third of his £33,000 salary this year (leaving him with £20,000) and then 10 per cent of his income for the rest of his working life, which should tot up to around £1 million” to combat poverty worldwide.
  • I’m just about done reading The Power of Half, the story of the Salwens, the Atlanta family who sold their upscale home and gave half the proceeds to aid villages in Ghana, discovering along the way the power of giving away half of just about anything. I’m actively campaigning to get you to read the book.
  • At, one of my perennial favorite bloggers Nathaniel Whittemore recently wrote about Betty Londergan’s pledge to give away $100 a day every day for a year. She writes about each day’s gift on her blog, Whatgives365.

A range of thoughts are percolating around in my brain as I read this ever-growing pile of similar stories:

  • Wow do we nonprofits not make giving an adventure for donors! Our fundraising focus is far more typically on issues like urgency, need, and our organization’s credibility (and need; and, um, did I mention the urgency of our organization’s need)? How little creativity we put into thinking about how we can facilitate giving adventures for donors.
  • Can you imagine a story about someone who makes a donation to a nonprofit every time the nonprofit asks? We’d (rightly, in my view) consider the nonprofit an exploitative bully…and we’d (rightly) consider such a giver a pitiful shill. We’d say, “Back off, you greedy nonprofit! Get a life, you weak-kneed donor!”
  • It’s sad to think how most nonprofit fundraisers would think about the giving of Prof. Ord, the Salwens, and Betty Londergan: namely, as a curiosity largely irrelevant to our organizational development strategies…unless we could get each of the aforementioned three to be directing their extraordinary gifts to our nonprofits.
  • Why do we fail to see the growing trend of donors wanting to do more than to react to our formulation of need? They clearly want to give through us nonprofits to meet important needs…but they (rightly) want to be more than responders to our formulations. They want to be thinkers actively processing how to solve the very same issues that vex us.
  • If a church contained members who actually all tithed, I suspect a moving and powerful news story or book could be written about all they accomplished through their giving–and how their giving changed them both individually and corporately.
  • Hmm… What about yours and my own “giving adventures”? Is our giving adventurous? In the words of Tom Peters, “Are you placing enough interesting, freakish, long-shot, weirdo bets?”

One thing is for certain: Ordinary people are a whole lot more interested in talking about the adventure of giving than we nonprofits give them credit for. It’s not adventures in giving that they find distasteful to talk about with us. It’s boring giving solicited to serve as fuel for our nonprofit’s tank (as we head to the moon while they are supposed to stand and wave on the launching pad) that they rightly find so objectionable.

That became exceedingly apparent to me in an airplane conversation I had with a guy who sat on the board of three family foundations in Long Beach. Brother is fairly begging to give money away…to any Long Beach organization who cares at least as much about helping him think through and process the social issues that are vexing him as they do about funding their own organization.

More on this man–and the growing army of donors that is exactly like him–in our next post. 

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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3 Responses to Donors and Their New Adventures in Giving, part I

  1. Matt Bates says:

    I’m afraid non-profits have lost credibility in discussing giving because champions have learned that “let’s talk about your giving” is code for “let’s talk about your giving to us.” Maybe churches as well.

    So how do we regain trust and credibility?

  2. EFoley says:

    I think you’re exactly right, Bates. So how do we set about regaining credibility? Perhaps exactly the way we lost it: One conversation at a time…

  3. Pingback: Donors and Their New Adventures in Giving, part III: Why can’t the adventure be missions AND giving? « Transformational Giving

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