Todd Rhine is a 25 year veteran of the financial service industry, founding member of The GenUs Collaborative and Regional Director of The Heritage Institute. He is a regular speaker among financial, estate and generation planning professionals and carries an impressive resume of degrees and designations. You can view more information on his website http://www.toddrhine.com/Home.html
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that the amount of discretionary / disposable cash available to individuals and families has been declining steadily for some time. Among the many effects of this trend-line is a decline in how, when–and even if– we engage in philanthropy at the level we would like to. This shrinking participation in charitable giving plays out as a decrease in total overall giving, a decrease in the number of organizations that individuals are able to support, or a combination of both. In my own business I’m seeing more people who once supported as many as 6 to 8 non-profits when times were good who now are giving a reduced amount to just 1 or 2 organizations.
We certainly haven’t run out of valid reasons to give. Tax strategies, the call of our faith, a tradition of family philanthropy, or simply a way to make a difference in our community are all powerful motivators for giving. Another factor boils down to a simple question: does my philanthropy represent my real passions, and what matters most to me? Am I truly motivated by my donations or am I ‘just going through the motions?’ According to many not for profit organizations, more donors than ever are just going through the motions. Non-profit officers report fewer donors who have a strong personal passion or motivation for the giving they are doing. This trend is also evident in declining participation and support for traditional charitable events like golf outings, charitable dinners, silent auctions and other fundraisers.
Given these trends, it is more important than ever to focus on methods by which we can we align the personal philanthropic desires of donors with their ability to give. Even in the most turbulent economic times, people want to do all they can to support the causes and organizations that they are passionate about.
National experts are weighing in on the issue. Jack Beatty, founder of CORE Group USA, and a recognized authority on communication, mindset and decision-making, has recently published a research summary on Alignment Theory that highlights the critical need to attach passion to purpose when it comes to helping cash-strapped donors to continue the charitable giving that matters most to them.
Rod Zeeb, co-founder and CEO of The Heritage Institute, has pinpointed additional reasons for creating alignment between donor passion and purpose in philanthropy in his white paper on how to create multi-generational transformational philanthropy. (Transformational philanthropy is philanthropy that impacts the giver as much as the recipient of the gift.) And in his book, The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, Larry Johnson cites alignment as the key component that motivates donors and delivers the true satisfaction they seek to achieve through their giving.
The experts share this conclusion in common: organizations looking for long-term, sustainable support must help to foster passionate connections between what truly matters to the donor and the organization that receives their support.
To identify and align passion with purpose requires a process of relationship building far different than the traditional donor-organization relationship. In part, it’s about helping the donor to discover, identify and articulate what is most important in his or her life. (Leaving the money OFF the table!) This process identifies the values that are most important to the donor, and in doing so, points to pathways available that can help them to weld their passions to their charitable desires.
Is such a process easy? Consider this: in your own personal experience, do your philanthropic activities truly align with what matters most to you, including being a reflection of your values and life lessons? Can you easily identify and write down eight core values that you hold dear? If you answered no, then you are in the majority. Understanding your values takes some effort to clarify, and more importantly, to translate into action moving forward.
This discovery and articulation process requires a blend of science and art. Some advisors and non-profit organizations enlist the assistance of professionals trained in this kind of process. Self-discovery processes are also available, like the one that is used by the main character in the novel, What Matters. Eighty-two year old Martin Forrestal is dying, but he has one last gift he wishes to share with his family. He takes a pad of paper and writes “What Matters” across the top of the page. Then he writes down every value that has been important in his life. Such a list will be unique to each person. It could be faith, work, honor, family, responsibility, loyalty, etc. When Martin completed his list, he recorded a personal story describing how each value was modeled for him by others, how it played out in his life, and why he wanted his children and grandchildren to understand it. Those of us who have done this exercise ourselves should add this disclaimer: it can be a highly enjoyable and meaningful exercise, but don’t expect it to be finished with your first cup of coffee! (That fact, plus the issue of, “OK, I’ve got my list and my stories, now what?,” explains why some people enlist the help of a qualified Heritage professional to translate the list and the stories into a multi-generational family experience.)
The bottom line is that once an individual has gained clarity and has articulated what matters most to them (for their reasons), their philanthropic activities and their relationship to the organizations they wish to support, take on a whole new level of involvement and impact. That involvement tends to be multi-generational, too, as the donor’s family participates in family meetings and other activities that (in the spirit of transformational philanthropy) help to strengthen the family itself.
It is said that a donor gives because of what it does for the charity, while a philanthropist gives because of what it does for them. The benefit of aligning one’s donations with one’s values is that any person, no matter the size of the gifts they can give, can experience the same level of personal satisfaction and family involvement that the multi-million dollar philanthropist experiences. In aligning passion with purpose, the scope, longevity and multi-generational opportunities and rewards for individuals, families and the causes and organizations that matter most to them can come into perfect alignment.