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A Time for Boldness: A Series on Philanthropy in the Modern World

American philanthropic behavior now defies convention. It is shape-shifting, fluid, ever cutting new channels with eddies and currents of innovation.

Giving flows through bank accounts and internet accounts, which can be one and the same. Giving is attached to passions and to purchases. Giving comes from an originating person, and from accounts whose originating person cannot be known. Giving comes selflessly with no questions asked, and with clear and quantitative expectations. Giving comes as a gift and perhaps as no gift at all, but rather a loan or equity investment.

Major giving comes in all these ways. But the change in major giving is not just the “how” of funding flows but the “from who.” Women are increasingly the holders of major wealth and, indeed, in the next decade will hold the majority of wealth. Immigrants now are the engines of technological change and culture, therefore, defines giving. Billionaires under 40 think of their philanthropy not as a testament to their legacy and memory, but as the sinew of their lives. Philanthropy is not something that ends their lives, but the lives they will live for four more decades.

And yet, there is another change moving through the land. The ironic combination of technology and populism has brought with it a new area of distrust. Many citizens no longer think globally or even nationally, but deeply in terms of their own communities and the things they can control. People, especially younger people, no longer trust institutions, nor do they even think in terms of institutions.  Information is instant and ubiquitous, unmediated by institutions.

Therefore, no one fundraising campaign formula fits all. There is too much new to work with – new data, new analytics, new expectations, new behavioral segments, new communications, ever-more refined alignment of all of that to specific populations. Moreover, the pace of change means that a campaign of five to ten years will be awash in fundamental change even as it proceeds. So, no strategy of a multi-year campaign will likely be the same in year one as it will need to be in year five.

What to do? What are the dimensions of this fluidity, and what are the implications for capital campaigns? Are there core principles any longer? If so, what are they and how can the very concept of a core principle be squared with campaign thinking that has no strategic boundaries, that must constantly change and adapt? Indeed, rather than simply adapting to change, can capital campaign fundraising actually seize change, embrace it, get out in front of it, and actually create it? Rather than being agile in response, can capital campaign fundraising actually be courageous in driving change?

In the next several months, Changing Our World will offer a series of essays on these topics in an effort to generate dialogue in the industry about new and better and even audacious ways to ensure the growth of the critical work of the nonprofit sector. Periodically, we will be intentionally provocative.  These are not times for reticence; they are times for boldness. And boldness comes at the price of the status quo.

Six essays will ensue:

1. Donor-Advised Funds: This fastest growing source of philanthropy requires change in the way nonprofits and fundraisers behave. They are not campaign friendly. Can we bring them home and indeed take back the money by owning them?

2. The Changing Face of America’s Millennials and Gen Zers and its Implications for Fundraising Campaigns: Ethnicity, wealth, trust, speed—all are characteristics of the young. They are not interested in institutions or traditions. Even the term “capital campaign” can produce an allergic reaction. They are interested in lasting change. And it better be measurable and sustainable. How does a campaign ensure such results?

3. Giving as an Ecosystem: Pledges are fine, cash is better. What about bitcoin? What about a nonprofit’s own earned revenue? What about commerce? Consumption? Giving flows are changing; new ways of moving money to cause bring both excitement, because they are often totally new money, and consternation because they are often neither well understood by fundraisers nor part of traditional campaign strategy. How can we seize new ideas; indeed, how can we create even better ones?

4. Redefining Volunteers: Campaigns traditionally are run on volunteers in clear structures. But such roles are often not part of cultures of new wealth. And they are often not how young leaders think. Technology has changed what “engagement” means. Meeting at 7 pm? You must be kidding; I’ll be on a plane or in the gym or meditating. Text me. What are the new leadership processes that will accommodate tomorrow’s campaigns? And what is “volunteerism” in that context? Expertise and networks may be more powerful volunteer assets than time.

5. And What Is a Campaign Anyway? Donors increasingly want to see new programs, not new buildings. Results are expected. What is a “case for support” at the point in time of a campaign? What promises about the future can be made in the present? How can a campaign be structured to be not about you, the nonprofit and what you want and need, but about the problem and how it is to be solved?

6. What’s a Body To Do? A concluding essay will lift out the strategic elements offered by these essays and present critical considerations and actions that will be necessary for future fundraising in something called (or perhaps no longer called) a campaign.