Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Define “generous”

January 4, 2012

Here’s a chronic story (h/t The Nonprofit Quarterly), about how the United States is the most generous nation on earth.  This annual survey measures how often people donate money to charity, how often they volunteer and how often they help strangers in need—the distinction between #1 and #3 being a little vague.

While the Nonprofiteer salutes all the donors among us, she feels constrained to point out that the United States leaves to private charity a whole range of activities provided elsewhere by the government.  Are the citizens of France really less giving, or are they just willing to give free public higher education through their taxes rather than depend on the kindness of strangers?  Are the Swedes, who provide paid parenthood leave while Americans think they’re generous to provide unpaid leave, really stingier than we are?  And do the English really turn their backs on the needy, or do they instead provide health care for everyone?

The Nonprofiteer is proud to be an American, but she prefers to be proud of the things we really do well rather than the things we do to compensate for what we do poorly, namely, supply adequate social services to all our citizens.

What a difference a syllable makes

November 19, 2010

More about the troubles of the do-well-by-doing-good gang, this time in the financial services sector.

Which raises the question: when does “profiting” turn into “profiteering”?

Whether women are more generous than men, and whether it matters

October 26, 2010

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy has just released a study showing that at all income levels women give more than men—both more frequently and more generously when controlled for income.

This study’s headline is that across nearly all income levels women 1) are more likely to give and 2) on average give more than men.

Specifically, women who make $23,509 or less (Q1) are 28% more likely to give than men; women who make $23,509 – $43,500 (Q2) are 32% more likely to give; women who make $43,5000 – $67,532 (Q3) are 49% more likely to give than men; women who make $67,532 – $103,000 (Q4) are 43% more likely to give than men; and women who make +$103,000 (Q5) are 26% more likely to give than men.

In every income group except for Q2, women give more than men. In Q1, women give 92% more (or almost twice as much) than men; in Q3, women give 95% more (or almost twice as much) than men; in Q4, women give almost 45% more (or almost one and a half times more) than men; and in Q5, women give 94% more (or almost twice as much) than men.

The study’s authors resist the temptation to make bold claims about why this is the case, though they note that generosity tends to increase with education and that women now earn more than half of all bachelor’s degrees.  Generosity also increases with income, and more women are employed now, and therefore earning their own income, than ever before.  But even controlling for income, education and wealth, in what principal investigator Debra Mesch calls “pure terms,” women are the more generous half of the population.

[Digression: Women now make 80 cents for each male dollar.  This represents an increase from 62 cents in 1979, at which rate we'll achieve wage parity in 2043.  Only the most ridiculously strident feminists regard this as a problem.]

What’s the source of women’s greater generosity?  When prompted, Mesch is willing to indulge in a bit of speculation:

Women are socialized to take care of their families and their communities, and because of that socialization process we see the motives of empathy and caring.  We’ve done another study that looks at difference in motives for giving, and women score much higher on empathy and principle of care.

Her new study’s results comport with the trend to focus international aid on women because they’re more likely than men to spend surplus income on their families instead of themselves.  Mesch is unsurprised: “I think that’s an international phenomenon, that women are the caregivers and nurturers; they have more of those prosocial behaviors.”

So what difference does any of this make, except the sheer giggle value of demonstrating female superiority to the male of the species?  Mesch is the Queen of Tact on the subject:

I think what we need to understand is that one is not better than the other,  just different.  Women give for different reasons, give differently, are much more egalitarian in their approach.  As girls, we’re taught to be nice and share.  Men have been taught to be much more competitive, and to communicate status.  Men are strategic and women want to be equalizers.

[Oh, right, of course: no one's better, we're just different.  But the Nonprofiteer defies anyone to offer an example of how "less generous" can be better than, or even equal to, "more generous."]

If we’re lucky, the study will help eliminate the prejudice afflicting most professional fundraisers: that women are timid askers and chintzy givers who never donate without asking someone’s permission.  Not only will cultivating a female donor be more likely to yield a “yes” than comparable effort spent on a man, but women’s giving will increase faster than men’s relative to their economic power.  You’re betting on a stock that’s going up.

But you can’t treat your female donors like men in drag.  As Mesch notes,
If you’re a fundraiser, you have to communicate with women in a different way than with men.  You need to involve and engage them, because if you feel involved as a woman, you contribute not only your money but your time.

Thus the study suggests a lot more than it claims: that today’s efforts to find meaningful work for female volunteers will produce tomorrow’s major gifts.  That achieving equal pay is essential not just to women but to the charities we support (so, a little help here, guys?).  That female-headed households can be a resource to be tapped and not just a problem to be solved.  That the future of philanthropy rests in women’s hands.

What makes this more than a parlor game is the extent to which it reveals the role of empathy in giving.  Just as poor people give a greater proportion of their income to charity than rich people—presumably because they know how it feels to be on the needing side of the give-and-need equation—so women may give more generously because we know what it’s like to be dependent.  Women are less likely to imagine that having been born on third base means we hit a triple; and the feminist mantra that every woman is one divorce away from welfare makes most of us acutely aware that there but for the grace of God go I.

Part II of the study, scheduled to be released in December or January, will address gender differences in the kind of charities supported: secular or religious?  Large or small?  Do women’s gifts go to operating expenses, while men’s go to bricks and mortar on which they can carve their names?  Says Mesch,

What I can tell you is from the previous research, men and women do give to different causes.  We find women seem to give more to the social service areas, to helping the needy.  Plus women seem to spread their giving out [among multiple charities] and men are much more strategic.

The results of her research leave Mesch hopeful.

My ideal wish is that at some point, we won’t have a need to study women’s philanthropy.  It would be wonderful if philanthropy is just philanthropy, and we understand that women have caught up in terms of their income and education and wealth.

We can really change the world––women are at the tipping point.  It’s going to be a huge movement where women can really see themselves as making an impact and being philanthropists.

An appraising stare down the gift horse’s gullet

August 31, 2010

Jane Mayer’s excellent piece in this past week’s New Yorker about the brothers Koch, oil billionaires who’ve donated hundreds of millions to nonprofits promoting right-wing causes, finally clarified for the Nonprofiteer her unease at Bill Gates’s campaign to persuade billionaires to donate half their estates to charity.  It’s not a question of who has or hasn’t taken the pledge, though that’s an entertaining parlor game.  Nor is it the fact that the generosity of extremely wealthy people may not be what the rest of us have in mind when we hear the word “charity.”  (The Kochs’ “charity,” for instance, is a term of art encompassing donations to all kinds of institutions, predominantly think-tanks churning out rationales for the economic interests of wealthy people and front groups to make it appear that defending those economic interests is the political will of the non-wealthy majority.)

What’s troubling about the billionaires’ pledge remains so even when the receiving causes are unexceptionable.  Gates, for instance, has very generously underwritten substantial efforts by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.  Good for him, and for the world.

But.

Even the best-intentioned best-directed private donations are a way for moneyed people to work their will on the public, while the rest of us have nothing but the vote.  And when the level of contributions is discussed in fractions of $1B, it’s no longer charity within a democracy: it’s benevolent dictatorship.

Maybe our country should be giving less to treat AIDS et al and more to eradicate infant and maternal mortality through the UN Population Fund; maybe not.  That’s a decision to be made by the people of the United States, through our government.  It’s really not a decision for a single person.

Why not?  Well, for starters, the “single person” in question is a billionaire, and thus always a man.  That means almost by definition that the highest levels of charitable giving will overlook women, though we constitute more than a majority of the population.  And if that’s the case—if society’s needs are met by individual whim instead of collective decisions about the greatest good for the greatest number—then what, actually, is left of self-government?

Of course, billionaires have plenty of assistance in the task of allowing economic power to trump political will.  The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, holding that corporations are “persons” with First Amendment rights violated by limits on their campaign spending, already put the nation quite a way down that road.  But somehow it’s worse when something that sounds so benign—“half my estate to charity, because I’ve been so fortunate”—actually translates as “I set the agenda for the future of this country, because I’ve been so fortunate.”

What we really want from billionaires is for them to pay a lot more in income taxes: say, the 87% of taxable income paid in 1954,  or even the 70% paid at the start of the 1980s.  And then we as a group can decide where our group’s money goes.  All contribute, all decide.

And what we really want from billionaires’ heirs is for them to pay the 77% estate tax rate in effect in 1941, or even the 70% estate tax rate in effect in 1976.   (And let’s not hear any nonsense about “death taxes.”  The dead aren’t the ones paying.)  Why shouldn’t people who get money by inheritance have to pay taxes on it, just like people who get it by working?

Merely to ask that question is to answer it: no democratic society decides that people who don’t work should be privileged over those who do.  Societies like that are called “aristocracies,” and all those so-called Constitutional Originalists running around hijacking elections by screaming about excessive taxation should take a moment to remember that our Constitution was designed precisely to interfere with the establishment of a government by inheritance.

The Constitution prohibits not once but twice the granting of any title of nobility; but the Framers didn’t rest there.  They fought to cripple and ultimately abolish entail and primogeniture, the primary devices by which English law kept family fortunes together.  Why?  Because they realized that, if you’re founding a republic, it’s really not a good idea to let money keep piling up generation after generation in the same few pairs of hands.

Self-governing societies can’t operate on noblesse oblige, and societies that do aren’t truly self-governing.  As Dr. Franklin said, “A republic—if you can keep it.”

Dear Nonprofiteer, How can I be sure that he who needs, gets?

October 1, 2009

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I am wondering if you can help.  I recently made a film about the efforts of a group of villagers in the developing world to find a means of support after their livelihoods were taken away by misguided government actions.

I am getting requests from people who want to donate money to the village after seeing the film, but there are currently no charities that specifically cater to the village and I know it takes a long time to start one.   Are there any charities where you can specifically earmark donations for a purpose and manage how that money is used? Kind of as a sub charity?

I just don’t want the money going to some big non-profit organization where by the time it gets to the village it has been depleted by other things.  There is a very big church in the village which might want donations to go to them, but I don’t believe that’s what’s best for the village, either. What do you advise?

Signed,

Avenue for Aid

Dear Avenue:

Though you’ve described a very particular set of circumstances, you’re asking a question of general interest: how to make sure that donated money gets to its intended beneficiaries. Often the correct answer to that question is, you can’t–and that’s a good thing. People gave oodles of money to relieve the suffering of the victims of September 11, but once that suffering was relieved and there was still a ton of money left over, the Nonprofiteer approves of its being used by the Red Cross to relieve other kinds of suffering, rather than its being used to enrich the intended beneficiaries. In any event, the price we pay for having experienced professional suffering-relievers on the ground when we need them is to pay their salaries and the light bills and rent of the people who send them there–and to pay all those overhead expenses year-round, not just when disaster strikes.

But you’ve described a case where very tightly targeted aid is available and makes sense, yet there’s no recognized pipeline from donors to recipients. Each country has its own unique way of handling charity, and even if you set up a recognized US charity it might not meet the necessary requirements for transmission and distribution of funds in Africa or Asia.

So your first step should be to get the lay of the land from the aid groups that know it best. Start with UNICEF or CARE: they’re certainly the least corrupt and most able people on the ground.  UNICEF has a presence in virtually every country on the globe, working closely with local groups, and its office staff should be able to get to the in-country people and find out what systems would work for targeting your aid. Yes, of course, they’re likely to say, “Give to UNICEF [or CARE] and we’ll guarantee the aid will go to your country of choice,” and they actually will–but that won’t increase the total money allocated to that country by the agency. It will just substitute your money for some other money that hasn’t been so designated, with no net increase in welfare for the country. Nor would an increase in country funding help you support this particular group of villagers.

So you probably need to suck it up and tell people you’re happy to accept their contributions, but that they’re NOT tax deductible. They can send the money to you (or to a bank fund you set up, if that makes them more comfortable: establish the Village Rescue Fund at First National Bank, and the bank has a fiduciary obligation to keep the money separate and to remit it in accordance with the purpose you describe when you set up the account), and then you can send it to your contact(s) in the village for distribution as they see fit. 

You won’t get to oversee it once it’s in the hands of people in the village, but you wouldn’t really want to: the point is to assist them in restoring their economic self-sufficiency, right? So concede them their autonomy. The last decision you get to make is to send it to your friend John instead of to the head of the local church; it’s hands-off from there.

If people are very moved by the film, the lack of a tax deduction (which is all that you lose by giving money to someone or -thing that isn’t a nonprofit) shouldn’t deter them from giving. Best of luck, and let us know if you find a better mechanism than the ones described here.

Making your nonprofit a star–or a pigeon

May 1, 2009

It’s not just Susan Boyle and “Britain’s Got Talent”–the nonprofit world, too, is full of ugly ducklings eager to turn into YouTube swans.  So it’s not surprising that two different groups have just announced plans to assist nonprofits in telling their/our stories on video. The first of these is genuine; the second is a concealed ad for fundraising software.

  • Animoto for a Cause (http://animoto.com/cause) is a new program “that will give non-profit organizations and humanitarians the ability to create dynamic, professional-quality online videos from their own photos and music – for free. . . .Animoto for a Cause will donate pro accounts to groups and individuals who are working to improve their community and the world at large, kicking off with more than 20 launch partners, like Help the Children and Susan G. Komen Foundation. . . . Animoto is encouraging all types of community activists to apply for an Animoto for a Cause account – everyone from college fundraisers to large non-profits will be considered . . . . Now organizations can use the service to promote their cause online in a multitude of ways, from posting and sharing videos on websites, YouTube and social networks, to downloading them to DVD for distribution at events.”
  • Meanwhile, an outfit called www.nonprofitnetworknews.com has created a “customizable video for nonprofits to make their wishes come true. The video then links to free nonprofit resources to help them get through these tough times.”  Well, if by “free nonprofit resources” one means “a commercial Website that doesn’t charge you for visiting,” that’s absolutely true.

As if nonprofit advocacy weren’t squelched enough . . .

April 22, 2009

it’s now being used as a reason for keeping knowledgeable nonprofit executives out of positions of influence with a friendly administration.

Advocacy is part of the business of being a nonprofit in a democracy–part of, you should pardon the expression, mission.  It shouldn’t be confused with the legalized bribery which passes for lobbying in the for-profit world.

The argument that the President’s anti-lobbying rule can’t be applied only to for-profit lobbying–that citizens wouldn’t understand the distinction being made–is nonsense.  And it’s shocking to hear it being made by the same people who, as campaign officials, operated on the assumption that the American people are smart enough to hear the truth and make decisions based on it.  Usually it’s a good thing when senior officials move from campaign mode to governing, but in this case–not so much.

——————

Addendum: The New York Times editorial board agrees.

Dear Nonprofiteer, Isn’t Oprah omnipotent?

March 13, 2009

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I’m wondering if you saw the Chicago Tribune story last week about the billboards erected by the organization SmileTrain to “solicit” Oprah Winfrey and what your reaction is. Since I am writing, it’s clear that I think there is a problem here. It’s clearly a clever campaign in that, although it failed to win a donation from Oprah, it has attracted the attention of passers-by and of the media. But at the same time, isn’t it bad fundraising practice and bordering on unethical?

Signed, Taken Aback

Dear Taken,

I’m not sure I see an ethical problem, exactly: if a billboard were addressed to a regular person (“Hey, Kelly Kleiman you stingy bitch, why don’t you give more money to SmileTrain?”), that might be an invasion of privacy; but Oprah is pretty much a public figure, and there’s no particular reason she shouldn’t be importuned by billboards as well as discussed in the tabloids.

What’s wrong with the approach is that it suggests a single wealthy individual is responsible for satisfying the fundraising needs of this agency.  If fundraising consultants in Chicago had a nickel for every time a client said, “Why don’t we ask Oprah?” they’d be able to support all their favorite charities forever.  But of course Oprah–and Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, and Michael Jordan, and Robert Redford, and every other celebrity–has charitable priorities of her own, and any agency that doesn’t happen to fit into them is not going to attract the celebrity’s support simply by virtue of waving a big flag.

Fundraising takes place in concentric circles: your biggest supporters are the people who are closest to you, your Board of Directors and others directly touched by the services you provide.  If someone on the SmileTrain Board of Directors knew Oprah personally and could ask for her support, that’s different; but to pick her name out of the newspaper, just because it’s in the newspaper, as someone who should support the group is just pure laziness masquerading as fundraising planning.

And yes, there may be an argument to be made that laziness in fundraising planning is tantamount to an ethical violation; but do we really need to go there?  The point is: SmileTrain should solicit support based on its mission from people with whom it has or can create some connection.  Buying a billboard to announce that it has no connection with a celebrity, but still feels entitled to her assistance, just makes the agency look desperate.

I’d be interested in hearing you articulate the ethical concerns to which you refer, and in hearing SmileTrain articulate its rationale for the billboard.  Of course, if the first rule of public relations is, “Say what you like about me as long as you spell my name right,” then the agency has already accomplished its purpose, and its rationale–to get its name mentioned–is clear.

Of kids and dogs

March 10, 2009

Obviously the Nonprofiteer has been in the business too long, because the press release below–trumpeting an uptick in aid to charities serving Indian children in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire–made her think of nothing so much as the “101 Dalmatians syndrome” dog-lovers mention to explain their dismay that the Obamas are getting a Portuguese water dog.

The dog-lovers fear people will be inspired to copy the First Family’s choice of dog and then abandon the animals when they prove to be too much trouble.  The Nonprofiteer fears that people will be inspired to support children’s charities in India this week and then abandon them when some equally photogenic opportunity emerges next week or month–abandoning the Indian children, in other words, when they prove to be too much trouble.

On the other hand, when she heard the dog-lovers’ plaint she thought, “Oh, get a life!”  Dog adoption on balance is a social good, and shouldn’t be discouraged just because some people who engage in it probably shouldn’t (much like parenthood).

Likewise, donations to children’s charities in India are a social good, and shouldn’t be discouraged just because they won’t continue forever.  What we hope is that people who adopt dogs grow into the responsibilities that go with pet ownership, and that at least some of the people who turn their attention to Indian orphans on a whim will grow to understand the causes of their poverty and thus to support the means necessary to alleviate it.  (Prominent among those necessary means: not just consistent individual giving but an increase in the U.S. foreign aid budget.)

And meanwhile, UNICEF (along with the charities cited below) will be glad of any and all contributions, no matter how passing the fancy which produces them.

CAFAMERICA: SUCCESS OF “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” IS AIDING CHARITIES

Oscar-Winning Film Inspires a Boost in Donations to Groups Working With India’s Children; CAFAmerica Offers Simple Means By Which to Target Donations to Best Programs In India.

ALEXANDRIA, VA///March 3, 2008///The Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” – depicting the often dire circumstances faced by children in poverty in India – has sparked interest in charities that target the problem, according to CAFAmerica, which promotes borderless charitable giving as part of the CAF International Network that spans six continents and has over $4 billion of charitable funds under management.

CAFAmerica CEO Susan Saxon-Harrold said: “Individuals and organizations that have been touched by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ should consider donating to aid Indian children. I have seen the excellent work by charities working in the slums in Mumbai. These charities are making a huge impact on the health, welfare and education of children living in poverty with very little by way of resources. The success of the film has thrown a positive spotlight on their efforts. We advise donors on how best to get involved in giving to India as well as how to make donations safely to get the best impact. As well as working with individuals we work with CAF India to help corporations with their corporate community involvement goals in the region.”

According to an estimate by UNICEF, there are currently 11 million children living on the streets of India, many of whom have fled abuse or mistreatment at home.

The film “Slumdog Millionaire” has inspired a boost in donations to the following children’s charities:

* Railway Children (http://www.railwaychildren.org.uk/) reports that has experienced 10 times as many hits on its Web site as normal and is witnessing a new wave of donations. Based in India, Railway Children established its first charity project in India in 1996, working with local third sector organizations to address the problem of homelessness. Chief executive Terina Keene has been quoted as saying: “We just hope that this marvelous film will help put us at the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to helping the charity. The children on the streets of India desperately need our help.”

* SOS Children’s Villages of India (http://www.soscvindia.org/soswebsite/index.php) is a non-profit, non-government, voluntary organization, committed to the care of children in need. The aim and objective of SOS-India is to provide long term family based care to parentless, homeless and abandoned children and to strengthen disadvantaged families as a preventive measure against abandonment and social neglect of children. Since its inception in 1964, SOS-India has expanded its services for children at a rapid pace.

* Save the Children, India (http://www.savethechildren.in/index.html) is an independent member of the International Save the Children Alliance. The organization fights for children’s rights and delivers immediate and lasting improvements to children’s lives in India. Save the Children has existed in India since pre-independence days and is currently working in 11 states and union territories of India.

Both SOS Children’s Villages and Save the Children, India have reported an increase in donors and sponsors in the wake of the release of the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Individuals and organizations that wish to rely upon the knowledge and due-diligence capacity of CAFAmerica to investigate these and other overseas charities at http://www.cafamerica.org/cafa/SearchModule/NpPublicProfileSearch.aspx, can donate to help Indian children by going to CAFAmerica Home page and clicking the donate Now button
at http://www.cafamerica.org/dnn/Home/DonateNow/tabid/148/Default.aspx.

CAFAmerica helps companies, family and community foundations, and individuals to manage their international philanthropy efforts and strengthen charitable activity around the world. It also advises on fundraising and grantmaking, allows online account management and provides an online giving mechanism for nonprofits to place on their websites.

ABOUT CAFAMERICA

CAFAmerica was founded in 1992 as a member organization of the London-based CAF International Network, which provides charitable financial services to nonprofits, individuals and companies. The CAF International Network spans six continents and has over $4 billion of charitable funds under management.

CAFAmerica is dedicated to expanding borderless charitable giving by providing guidance and international grant making options for donors. CAFAmerica’s range of innovative charitable solutions for US donors and overseas nonprofits include Donor Advised Gifts, Donor Advised Funds, Matching Donor Advised Fund and most recently, the ‘Friends of’ Charity Fund.

CONTACT: Patrick Mitchell, in the US, (703) 276-3266 or pmitchell@hastingsgroup.com; and Fiona Fountain, in the UK, +44 1892 544035 or fiona@fionafountain.co.uk.

Where angels fear to tread

March 4, 2009

A group of Rice University MBA students is spending spring break in Rwanda, hoping to use their skills to come up with a distribution system for a trio of products developed through the university’s global health initiative: a low-cost neonatal incubator, a diagnostic lab-in-a-backpack and a plastic dosing device for liquid medicines.

“All of these products are terrific designs, but you cannot solve pervasive health problems with one or two of these,” [the supervising professor] said. “You need them by the hundreds and thousands, and you need to overcome the problem of distribution, which has stymied Western governments and aid organizations for decades.”

[CLIP]

“Neither governments nor aid organizations have been effective at getting products to the people who really need them,” [the professor] said. “But that’s what business does best. Products get delivered and customers get served when there is a profit motive.”

The Nonprofiteer doesn’t wish to be cynical, and she really doesn’t want to devalue the obvious effort Rice University has put into making its students aware of the outside world.  But the notion that a group of MBA students can solve problems that have “stymied . . . governments and aid organizations for decades,” just because they’re interested in making money and those earlier groups were not, makes her want to hurl.

This is arrant nonsense, market-worshiping of the most thoughtless type.  It is NOT true that the profit motive is best at assuring distribution of necessities to poor people; the profit motive, and the free-market capitalism in which it’s embedded, are best at assuring distribution of items to people who can pay for them.

We in the nonprofit/NGO sector are happy to welcome any allies to our fight, but please don’t insult our intelligence, experience and expertise by suggesting that the obstacles we face will melt away magically with the application of a little well-placed self-interest.

If the days of Gordon Gekko and “Greed is good” aren’t over yet, with the world financial system circling the drain in a crisis created by people who believed the profit motive could solve all problems, the Nonprofiteer wonders what will be necessary to drive a stake through its heart.

Or, more succinctly: puh-LEASE.


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