Billions and billions: The distances that divide

What Matters

The popular scientist Carl Sagan was known for a signature catchphrase: “billions and billions.” It referred to the vast number of stars in the universe. Through his television programs, we came to see our earth as a tiny player in the context of the great and distant drama of the cosmos.  

Today we are enchanted by different kinds of stars that can also seem terribly distant from us—the fewer than 3,000 people in the world who possess at least a billion dollars of wealth. Our distance from people who control such vast resources is a concern that is not captured simply by the power they can wield by virtue of having so much money. Their experiences and possibilities for acting in the world can seem alien to what everyday people can hope to accomplish in the world. Certainly, great concentrations of wealth can create great social distances, but must they always? 

New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas, a strident critic of the influence billionaires have in our society, recently asked whether “the world belongs to them or to us.” The presence of billionaires may be a problem for our sense of equal citizenship, but it also indicates the presence of a wealthy society as Will Wilkinson argues in the same newspaper.

As China’s rise lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, it also generated hundreds of billionaires, more than any country outside the United States. And countries like Sweden and Denmark that we look to as egalitarian havens have more billionaires per capita than the U.S. Perhaps billionaires bring about improved material conditions for their societies.

What’s the problem with having billionaires if this leads the rest of us to benefit from smartphones, rapid mobility at great distances, and extended life expectancies? These are all material advantages that exceed what kings, queens, and the richest merchants had a hundred years ago.

But even if we decide that billionaires are good for the economy, a problem is the power that comes from disproportionate resources, especially the power to affect public outcomes in a democracy where each citizen has the same equal vote. The problem of wealth’s power is something that we are in the midst of discussing in the U.S. presidential election. Have we reached a point of excessive concentration of wealth that does not suit our republic?

Concentrated wealth not only provides for a lot of power, it can also create social distance. Our relative position in society matters to our well-being in ways that researchers are now measuring. Being stuck at the bottom of the pecking order is not only about having less resources and life possibilities, which it certainly is.

Even if one’s resources exceed those of one’s parents, being at the bottom is a signal of subservience, of being “lesser than” others. It affects us in demonstrable ways, such as decreased longevity and worse health. That is why the promise of equality and equal dignity of each and every person has been such a powerful signal, echoing around the world at least since the American Revolution. Its realization seems to argue against having great distance between our citizens. 

For philanthropy, this means that in addition to working to redistribute resources, we may need to lift up efforts that work to reduce social distance.

Social distance is not new or unusual in human history. As civilizations emerged, we created distance through hierarchies of kings, priests, and aristocrats. There are other ways in which we are distant from each other based on ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, profession, and faith, to name a few.   

So even when wealthy philanthropists seek to give away their wealth, as those who have signed the Giving Pledge have committed to doing, how they do so is important. Are they working to reduce the distance between themselves and those who receive their money? What are the rest of us doing when exercising our generosity that works to reduce social distance?   

Consider three ways that philanthropy can reduce social distance: place, participation, and open particularism. 

One way of reducing distance is through place-based or community philanthropy. Making a commitment to a particular place and sticking to it over time, demonstrating that those who give and those who receive are both of the same place can help reduce distance. After all, today’s giver may be tomorrow’s receiver.

Rather than perching themselves on an inaccessible mountain far from town, philanthropists who work as part of a community can use their wealth as a community resource to build the shared place they value, rather than as a means of distancing themselves from the community that played a role in elevating them. 

A second way is through participation. We have done things in our public spaces to create distances, using housing and transportation policy to impede community formation. David Brooks has argued that even the nuclear family has distanced us from the larger tables around which extended families and other communities gathered, immersing themselves in each other’s household affairs. So participation with those you aim to care for, bringing them into the process of identifying the problem, forming the solution, and assessing its impact are all ways to bridge divides between those who give and those who receive. 

Finally, there are ways of supporting particular communities without making them distant from everyone else. I can’t think of a simple template that would succeed in each case, as there are many particularistic organizations that seek to remove themselves from others and militate for their cause that you or I might find corrosive for the common ties we need to bind us in a healthy civil society. But I think we can agree that in principle, there are ways of celebrating a particular segment of society that lifts up the difference, but also invites outsiders in.

I think this requires an openness that advances understanding. For example, I think of advocacy efforts on behalf of our disabled citizens that are advanced by the nonprofit Respectability. It is in many of our particular identities that we have our most meaningful experience with others, but these do not have to be insular and disconnected from other particular identities.

There is currently an intense debate about the concentration of wealth in society. But there are other ways in which we create social distance that are not only about the distribution of wealth. Maybe some level of distance is inevitable, but I will look to see how all of us as philanthropists use our positions to decrease distance and engage our communities.

Billionaires may present problems we need to consider, but there are many more billions of the rest of us who can work to lessen the distances among us.

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

New graduate certificate now available

Philanthropy at work: Nine students, eight nonprofits, and thousands of dollars raised

Genevieve Shaker’s Donor Motivations class

In fall 2019, undergraduate students in Dr. Genevieve Shaker’s Individual Donor Motivations course designed and implemented their own #GivingTuesday campaigns to support nonprofits of their choice.

Preparation for their campaigns began long before #GivingTuesday started. Students picked a nonprofit to raise money for, and they selected communications channels, including social media, emails, letters, texts, phone calls, and more to reach out to potential donors for their organizations.

They listened to guest speakers who work in fundraising, used class resources to inform their thinking, designed campaign strategies, created crowdfunding sites, crafted social media posts, drafted thank you letters, prepared events for the day itself, and planned to not only raise money but also raise awareness for the causes they care about.

The day after #GivingTuesday, students shared their presentations, which included their goals and progress, strategies, challenges, and what they believe they accomplished. All together, they raised $5,677 for eight organizations.

Stephani Green used a superhero theme to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. She featured a resident at her workplace, who served as the face of her campaign, which added a personal touch and helped raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.

Macy Rogers wanted to interact with new donors as she continues to raise money for Riley Children’s Hospital. She experimented with Facebook Live, including shooting a video with her cousin, a Riley Kid, who served as the focal point of her campaign.

With children attending The Oaks Academy, Amanda Cross wanted to not only raise money for the school, but also contribute a positive narrative about the impact of private schools. She made her first successful in-person request for support.

Double-teaming, Molly Grimm and Nina Powell crafted their campaign to raise money for and awareness about the First Responder Children’s Foundation. They created a gift range chart to help guide their strategy and also hosted a breakfast event where people could donate and thank first responders. 

Tori Hawkins adopted her pets from Indianapolis Animal Care Services, so she organized her campaign around their nonprofit affiliate. She incorporated her love of photography to incorporate Polaroid-style photos of happy animals in her crowdfunding posts and thank you materials. 

Using tailored letters and appeals, Maren Lehman raised money and awareness for Rock Recovery, a nonprofit fighting the stigma of eating disorders. Lehman hosted a special event about eating disorders for IU Indianapolis students and her campaign dollars were matched by the organization’s board of directors. 

Kelli Godwin took a video of her sister discussing her own pregnancy loss to build awareness of and support for The Memories to Hold Pregnancy Loss Program at Franciscan Health. She recruited ambassadors to help share her posts in order to boost engagement with other audiences. 

Rachel Ploss is passionate about animal welfare, so she choose IndyHumane for her campaign. She used her adopted cat, as well as other animals from IndyHumane, to bring her campaign to life, and used a multi-channel approach to achieve her goals. 

For Ploss, it was a very worthwhile learning experience. 

“I want to go into fundraising, and this campaign gave me the courage to believe that I can be a successful fundraiser,” she said. “I learned that fundraising is about more than the monetary goal, it's about advocacy, education, and so much more. 

“The best part was not about creating my first successful campaign, or doubling my monetary goal. It was being able to connect donors to give back to IndyHumane and to see the impact that they have on the animals they care for.” 

Nine students, $5,677 raised, many lessons learned, and more dollars donated to and awareness raised about nonprofits making a difference.

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From seminary to philanthropy: How one master’s student is making a difference

Bryan Fegley

Bryan Fegley, director of advancement at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California, will graduate with his master’s in philanthropic studies in May 2020. 

After graduating from NC State University in 2013, Fegley entered into Catholic religious life.

When he realized he wanted to pursue a different path, he found a job working in fundraising at Barton College, a small liberal arts school in North Carolina. While there, Fegley discovered his passion for the annual fund.

Knowing that a master’s degree would grow his knowledge and understanding of the field, he asked his then-supervisor if she thought an MBA program would be appropriate. 

Her response? “Sure, but if you want the best program in the fundraising world, check out the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.”

He took her advice, and applied for enrollment in the online master’s program. After being accepted, Fegley began taking courses in summer 2017 while balancing a full-time fundraising career at the same time. Taking online courses has allowed him to work and build his career on both the east and west coasts of the U.S.

The online classes provided important information and background knowledge about philanthropy for Fegley. He enjoyed many of them, but particularly liked Dr. Patricia Snell Herzog’s courses on research methods and next-gen tech and social change and Dr. Kathi Badertscher’s course on applying ethics in philanthropy.

“Practical aspects of fundraising can change. For example, think of how technology and online giving has transformed fundraising,” Fegley said. “Ethics stay the same. Having a firm ethical grounding will stay with you throughout your entire career.

“I find myself referencing the textbooks from the ethics course about once a month to ensure that if a situation arises, I’m handling it within a solid ethical framework.”

During his time with the school, Fegley also volunteered to write two chapters for Giving USA, which the school’s research team researches and writes, and which is published by the Giving USA Foundation. Master’s and Ph.D. students and alumni have the opportunity to volunteer to write chapters for the research publication that analyzes philanthropic data and news sources and discusses charitable giving in the prior year. Fegley wrote the “Giving to Health” chapter for the 2018 report (on giving in 2017), and the “Giving to Human Services” chapter for the 2019 report (on giving in 2018).

His academic experiences at the school have helped him in his fundraising career, allowing him to move from his first fundraising job at Barton College to the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Then, in the spring of 2019, he received a call from the president of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA inviting him to fly out for an interview for their director of advancement position.

He officially received the offer to lead the seminary’s entire fundraising operation one week later.

Now, Fegley oversees a team that assists him with the seminary’s annual fund. He’s also growing the seminary’s major gifts pipeline and developing a planned giving program. He’s continuing to build new relationships with the seminary’s donors, using his previous seminary experience as a helpful guide to understanding donors’ passions for the work.

“Catholic Seminaries are unique environments, so to have employees who have experienced it before is a benefit,” he said.   

In the future, Fegley hopes to continue to help organizations he’s passionate about: “I want to be an effective and ethical fundraiser, and see where my career leads me from there.”

He advises potential students to “just do (the degree).”

“It’s opened my eyes to a lot of new concepts and ideas, and it’s been well worth the time, effort, and money to go through the program, in part because of the connections you’re able to make and the credibility of the degree,” Fegley said.

“When I talk to other fundraisers, it’s been very helpful to mention my education at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. It’s a good boost for your résumé and for networking.

“I also credit the school and the education I’ve received there with helping me advance to a director-level position in the short amount of time that I’ve been a fundraiser.”

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Latinx community leaders to give public talk on April 7

Ana Marie Argilagos and Maria Pesqueira

Join us to hear from two leaders in the Latinx community as they discuss current trends in philanthropy. Ana Marie Argilagos, president of Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), and Maria Pesqueira, president of the Healthy Communities Foundation, will share their perspectives on how to better leverage philanthropic resources to strengthen Latinx leadership, voice, and equity.

Argilagos guides HIP with a bold vision: to usher in a new generation of philanthropy that is for, by, and about the Latino community.

Previously, she served as a senior advisor at the Ford Foundation as part of the Equitable Development team. Her work has focused on urban development strategies to reduce poverty, expand economic opportunity, and advance sustainability in cities and regions across the world.

Pesqueira was appointed president of the Healthy Communities Foundation in May 2017. The foundation’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities in over 20 communities in western Cook County, Illinois by promoting health equity, quality, and access.

As an award-winning visionary leader, she is a sought-after speaker addressing local, national, and hemispheric audiences on a wide variety of topics ranging from private/nonprofit partnerships, health disparities, immigration reform, women and family issues, violence prevention, and the future of philanthropy.

This event is part of the Mays Family Institute Diverse Speaker Series and will be moderated by Dr. Una Osili, dean’s fellow for the institute and associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

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