Waiting. And Waiting.

There’s an epidemic of deferred philanthropy in this country.

What do I mean? Let’s imagine that your house is burning. Firefighters arrive on the scene, and they offer you three choices.

The first option is for the firefighters to do all that they can, now, to save your home.

The second option is for them to use only five percent of their available water and equipment and personnel to fight the fire. They assure you that this will allow them to shepherd their resources so that they will be able to direct a similarly insufficient effort toward future house fires a year from now, a decade from now, fifty years from now.

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Accretion Happens

So why does your organization hold a charity golf tournament? Probably because it’s something you’ve always done.

My guess is that if you looked into it, you’d find that fifteen years ago you had a board member – now long passed from the scene – who loved to golf, and who saw a golf tournament as a way to get his friends connected to the organization. You’ve been doing the tournament ever since.

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Naming the Number

A few years ago I was the chair of a nonprofit organization that was urgently raising money for a new building.

As part of that effort I called an affluent donor and close friend named Bill. I explained the need, and I noted that the building was to be named after a man we both deeply admired. Bill said that he of course would like to help. Then he added, “And what magnitude of gift, may I ask, would appropriately signify my affection for you, my respect for the honoree, and my support for the program?”

I told Bill that a number with five digits would suffice. And a check for $10,000 arrived two days later. Continue reading

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Income Inequality: The Nonprofit Edition

Who here is old enough to remember the William Aramony scandal?

In 1991, Aramony, the head of what was then called United Way of America, was found to be having a series of affairs, culminating with a long-term liaison with a girl who was 17 years old (Aramony was 59) when they met. Moreover, Aramony traveled with her in style (four-star hotels, the Concorde to Europe, nights in a specially-purchased luxury condo in New York City), all on United Way’s dime. And this was on top of what was discovered to be a lavish $390,000 annual salary.

Aramony became the poster child for abusing the trust people place in charity. The scandal damaged the independent local United Ways, which were tarred by association, even though they had only a tangential connection to Aramony and his shenanigans. In fact, the scandal impugned the reputation of the entire nonprofit sector. And the United Way of America’s board of governors was roundly seen as equal parts negligent and clueless, and so extremely wealthy that they didn’t realize that paying the CEO of any charity that kind of money was utterly inappropriate. While Aramony’s travel style and sexual peccadillos clearly attracted attention, people were stunned enough by his salary alone that they raised their eyebrows and voices.

Flash forward a couple of decades. Continue reading

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