Bad donors, or unethical fundraising?

The Lame, Evil Donors meme rolls on, this time in an op-ed in the Washington Post by Peter Singer, Heartwarming causes are nice, but let’s give to charity with our heads.

Singer says donors make terrible choices when they donate to help sick kids through the Make-A-Wish Foundation rather than donating to a cause that saves lives. The $7,500 average cost of granting a wish (think the recent wonderful Batkid story), if spent on nutrition or disease prevention in the developing world, save a lot of lives.

Therefore, Singer reasons, a gift to Make-A-Wish is irrational and immoral.

Michael Rosen nicely (and quite fairly) skewers Singer’s argument at Is it Ethical When an Ethicist Browbeats Prospective Donors?, calling it “coercive manipulation.” Read it.

I don’t trust myself to fully understand where my charitable giving really ought to go. I really don’t trust Peter Singer or any other self-appointed Master of Morality to make those decisions for me. Or for the generous donors who fund all the great causes of the world.

The troubling thing about this is that Singer is just one voice in a puritan chorus that says something is wrong with donors. They are lame and evil, and they owe it to us to change.

Any fundraiser who follows that line of thinking is doomed to create ineffective fundraising. Because they’ll miss the reasons people give.

Our duty as fundraisers is to use resources wisely to maximize donor connection and donations. If we do crummy, ineffective, brow-beating fundraising, trying to remake donors into weird imitations of ourselves — that’s malfeasance.

Fundraisers who do that will go broke in a satisfying cloud of self-righteousness, which is far more immoral than any “misguided” thinking donors might be committing.

If you believe your cause is more important than some other cause, your job is to make it more compelling than other causes. And you do that by entering the donor’s world, and appealing to them on their grounds — not by deciding there’s something wrong with donors and insisting that they change to fit your needs.

Every donor has a duty to make the world a better place. And to do that to the best of their ability, following their heart and mind. We can help them by showing them what they can do through us.

Trying to dictate how they should think won’t work. We have no business in that business.


Comments

6 responses to “Bad donors, or unethical fundraising?”

  1. Tom Ahern Avatar

    There’s a chance P. Singer’s epiphany is nothing more than “sudden smartest guy in the room syndrome.” Or SSGRS. Pilgrims new to philanthropy keep stumbling across the same shocking fact, as their shiny shoes slap up the dusty path toward doing good: normal people (idiots!) give to the things that personally matter to them (you thoughtless morons). It’s not collectivized giving, poured toward a common goal. It’s not directed giving. It’s not managed giving, giving by centralized higher powers who weigh impact and assign resources (because that bright idea worked so well for the USSR).

  2. Tom Ahern Avatar

    There’s a chance P. Singer’s epiphany is nothing more than “sudden smartest guy in the room syndrome.” Or SSGRS. Pilgrims new to philanthropy keep stumbling across the same shocking fact, as their shiny shoes slap up the dusty path toward doing good: normal people (idiots!) give to the things that personally matter to them (you thoughtless morons). It’s not collectivized giving, poured toward a common goal. It’s not directed giving. It’s not managed giving, giving by centralized higher powers who weigh impact and assign resources (because that bright idea worked so well for the USSR).

  3. Donors like to see that their donation has had a positive impact, ie. shown that it made a difference in the world or in someone’s life.
    That’s very difficult to perceive when donating to long-term solution-based programs as Singer espouses in the Washington Post article.
    You make a very good point in saying that fundraising professionals have no business trying to dictate to donors how they should think or what causes they should care about.
    It’s our job to make a convincing case to donors that their donations will in fact make that positive difference in the world or in someone’s life.
    It’s up to the donors to decide which causes deserve their support, not some wannabe charity czar.
    “It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.”
    ― Aleister Crowley

  4. Donors like to see that their donation has had a positive impact, ie. shown that it made a difference in the world or in someone’s life.
    That’s very difficult to perceive when donating to long-term solution-based programs as Singer espouses in the Washington Post article.
    You make a very good point in saying that fundraising professionals have no business trying to dictate to donors how they should think or what causes they should care about.
    It’s our job to make a convincing case to donors that their donations will in fact make that positive difference in the world or in someone’s life.
    It’s up to the donors to decide which causes deserve their support, not some wannabe charity czar.
    “It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.”
    ― Aleister Crowley

  5. What very few know about the Batkid, is that a generous donor who has a heart for kids paid the city’s costs. Best end to a great event for an overwhelmed family.

  6. What very few know about the Batkid, is that a generous donor who has a heart for kids paid the city’s costs. Best end to a great event for an overwhelmed family.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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