In the Community
Are We Losing the Grace and Joy of Philanthropy?November 16, 2009
“There’s a trend in philanthropy to treat the act of giving as an ‘investment decision.’ This is partly because non-profit management is taught increasingly in business schools, and partly because more wealthy donors with a business background are becoming involved. Donors are younger, more active and may have made their money in finance. They believe, as I did until a couple of years ago, that there is a holy grail of metrics, and if we just worked harder to find it, we could measure all non-profits, lay them side by side and figure out which ones were more effective in doing good in the world. What gets lost in all of this focus on evaluation and numbers is the grace and joy of philanthropy. Philanthropy inspires. It tells stories. It reconnects us with others and reminds us of our shared humanity.”
As the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry attempts to improve its effectiveness—in grantmaking and other areas of our work—we understand that metrics considerations are indeed important. We need to understand the numbers that are behind the expected outcomes of the dollars we spend. But the impact of the nonprofits we fund, and therefore the impact of the Community Foundation, goes well beyond the numbers. The work is more than the predictable or measurable. How important is the work in the life of a single human being? Did it begin a dialog about an issue? Did it begin to affect attitudes? The work of systemic change can last many years, is laborious, and often intangible in the short run—and yet this may be the most important work of all. Giving is one of the best parts of what it is to be human. Consider the “numbers” of course. But don’t lose the rest of the story. The stories behind the work are what bind humankind together. The stories behind the work make every day matter.
Denise K. Spencer