Close your eyes. No peeking. Now imagine for a moment the person that comes to the top of your mind when I say the word "philanthropist". Got them? Good. Now cement that image right there. Now play along again and close your eyes and imagine the person that comes to the top of your mind when I say the word "generous". No peeking! I'm a betting woman, so I'm going to bet that the two people you pictured were different individuals.
And that's exactly my point today. In our business of fundraising we celebrate and laud the philanthropist. How many of us in our lifetimes will ever become philanthropists in the classic definition? Well, the first strike against us is that we work in the non-profit sector, so based on salary alone, probably not many. But most if not all of us are generous.
This community is one of the most giving, caring sectors out there. We are generous in many ways, with time, resources, advice, and monetarily. So what kind of message are we sending to our donors when we consistently promote philanthropy and what we really mean is generosity. I'm consistently asked how to recognize volunteers not just donors, what if we recognized generosity instead? Yup, I'm asking us to make another shift in the way we think. I've brought you along a journey where I avow that the thank is more important than the ask, now I'm asking you to re-frame your thoughts around what it truly means to give.
I'm not saying that philanthropy and generosity are mutually exclusive, they're not. But the two words evoke completely different connotations. Remember, words matter to our supporters. Transforming your thinking can have wonderful engagement opportunities.
Cook Children's Hospital has, with stunning results. They took their philanthropy report and transformed it into a report on generosity. And folks, it's brilliant. Here it is: http://www.cookchildrens.org/generosity It's beautiful, and moving, and the tone of the writing is so donor focused I swoon. So proud of the great people there.
Some of you are going to chalk this up to simple semantics. Ok, I'm cool with that. But words matter, and their context and content matters as well. I strongly believe that the way we discuss our industry needs a radical transformation. One way to do that is to choose our words more carefully. To challenge the norm that we define individuals based on the amount of money they provide us at one finite point in time, not their generous spirit or intent.
What are your thoughts on this whole generosity vs. philanthropy debate? Is there a debate? How do we involve ourselves in this discussion to benefit those who are most generous to us and the causes we represent. I look forward to your thoughts below.