President's Perspective Blog

Mike’s Monday Message: Privilanthropy and Our Responsibility to the Donor

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Last week on Twitter, I introduced a new made up word on Twitter and was interested to see what people thought of it.

The word was “privilanthropy,” a combination of “privilege” and “philanthropy.” It’s hardly a new concept, of course, but as we see more and more major gifts making up a larger percentage of the philanthropic pie, and given the increased focus on equity, inclusion and equality, I thought it was time to revisit the subject.

Now, I did not say what definition I had in mind for the word. In fact, I was intentionally vague about the word, but instead asked people to give me their initial thoughts. What was your immediate emotional reaction? What did “privilanthropy” mean to you? Is it a concept that is real? If so, what do we do about it?

There were some interesting thoughts and reactions – in fact, not everyone liked the term (which is great). From those responses, I asked two AFP members if they’d like to share some general thoughts on the whole issue of fundraising, equity, philanthropy and privilege—"privilanthropy.”

“I like the word “privilanthropy.” For me, the definition would be giving from a place of privilege—centered around donor's feelings or needs. This is not necessarily a bad thing; sometimes a donor’s personal motivation leads them to give in a way that does substantial good for the community that a nonprofit serves. However, we have been having a lot of conversation as a sector lately about the times when that alignment is off. “Privilanthropy” at its worst can look like donor dominance, paternalism and white saviorism.

“The issue for us as fundraisers is not to judge the intent of our donors, but it is our responsibility to ensure a positive impact of giving. There is nothing evil about a donor wanting to maximize the tax benefit to themself in the process of giving, or to give to make themselves feel good in some way. However, if the beneficiaries our organizations exist to serve are harmed in any way by the ways we raise funds, or the ways our donors influence their use, then that is an ethical problem we cannot allow to continue. Perhaps by having conversations about Mike’s newly coined term, we can do more to examine these dynamics and ensure that justice and philanthropy go hand in hand and do not find themselves at odds.”

Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE, Associate Director of Annual Giving, University of Missouri – St. Louis

“If we are to learn anything about fundraising and our profession from 2020, there are two key areas we have to look at. First, donors continue to astound us, defy the detractors and prove that, regardless of the world’s situation, people will still give and support the causes they care most about, even in times of crises like a global pandemic. The lasting lesson here has to be that we, as fundraisers, continue to make opportunities available for donors to exercise their agency and place in the world through their giving.

“Second, the global outcry toward social justice must make us look at philanthropy in the same light:  how do we make philanthropy, and by extension fundraising, equitable, inclusive, and available to any and all who want to participate. It is past time that we look at fundraising as not just identifying the wealthy and those with “capacity” to give, but as an exercise in inviting everyone to the table, regardless of race, gender, creed, background or socio-economic status.

“We must look at our industry’s practices and long-held biases to examine where we have made philanthropy the purview of the privileged and in doing so excluded the very people and communities we work to help.  If philanthropy means ‘the love of humankind,’ then that definition must embrace and include ALL of humankind, at all levels.”

T. Clay Buck, CFRE, Founder & Consultant, Tactical Fundraising Solutions

Thanks to Sarah and Clay for their comments and to everyone who responded on Twitter. A strong, vibrant community is not afraid to have these kinds of conversations—in fact, we MUST have these kinds of conversations if we are to see any real progress.

I don’t have the answers for “privilanthropy.” But I want to be part of the journey – our journey - to find the answers, working with all of you. And THAT is what AFP is committed to doing.

I invite you to tell me what you think about the word “privilanthropy.”  Should we use the term? What does it mean to you, and what should we do about these issues? Feel free to email me, Mike.Geiger@afpglobal.org, or connect with me on Twitter, @AFPMikeGeiger. I look forward to more thoughtful and honest conversation about this and other issues that affect our great profession.

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Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA

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22 Sep 2021 AFP News
22 Sep 2021 AFP News
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