Philanthropy and policy: Connected all the way down

What Matters

Previously I discussed how a sense of mutual generosity among political competitors might be necessary for a democracy to function.

If the combination of deliberation and competition that characterizes constitutional democracy is to last, it may need philanthropy to be built in. Consequently, any policy that emanates from this system also relies on philanthropy. When it comes to successfully implementing policies crafted by democratic governments, they need to be seen as legitimate even by those who may not have voted for the party that generates the policy.

Generous attitudes toward political competitors and those over whom one has achieved power are important, not only morally but also to make government function well. Policy and philanthropy are intertwined in more ways besides regulating nonprofits and the tax incentives for giving money.

Political deliberation and competition rest on a diffuse civic space of norms and principles where we also find attitudes and habits that will either nurture or degrade politics' capacity to generate effective policy.

Today's public discourses proclaim irreconcilable certainties. "Yet disagreement is a feature, not a bug, of our constitutional democracy; the question is whether we can learn to disagree productively." So write recently Danielle Allen of Harvard and Paul Carese of Arizona State (the latter visited us in 2018). They helped develop The Education for Democracy Initiative because they believe that underinvestment in history and civics has contributed to our polarization and our unproductive divisions.

The word philanthropy does not make an explicit appearance in the roadmap they offer. However, associational activity and mutual assistance feature prominently, as do discussions of how we engage in community, and there are pedagogical approaches that point to student-led voluntary associations.

It is a wonderfully crafted compilation of resources for teachers as it connects rare fellow travelers like professors of history, K-12 teachers, former Secretaries of Education from both parties, and innovators in civics programming.

There are good reasons to worry that our government's policies will be less than ideal if the civic space in which citizens interact is not approached with the kinds of habits conducive to peaceful and effective political argumentation and competition. Certainly, schools are vital places to locate this kind of education. But we may need to go further, not only to reach adults who have not benefited from robust civics education but also to recognize that civics and history are also vital to our life-long learning and our capacities to govern ourselves, especially as our world is being remade in the wake of the pandemic.

At the core of the value of civics, it seems that self-government and self-realization rely on habits of selflessness that benefit those around us and ultimately us as well. A prominent concern is how our state and national governments will generate sound laws and policies. But there is more to civics and philanthropy than being a means toward a good, democratic government.

Even if it does not find ultimate expression in government policies, a life of civic engagement also has intrinsic value. It can also be its own reward.

But we need not stay in the realm of how the world should be. Practically, as we have moved towards (though not yet achieved) a society where all individuals enjoy equal status and dignity and have the legal power to decide matters for themselves, policy becomes much more widely distributed.

Yes, individuals' actions will eventually affect the outputs generated by governments, but there are essential and consequential policies that individuals, communities, and corporate entities create.

The word policy has Latin and French origins associated with the government and the polis' official work. More recently, the word has come to be used much more generally to mean "a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions." 

Large corporations with national and global reach promulgate policies that affect us all, with ubiquitous social platforms capable of silencing or amplifying voices and ideas through their declared policies or the policies implicit in the algorithms they create that govern activity on their platforms.

With half the world's online population active on one of Facebook's apps, the company's policies affect more people's consumption and generation of information than any single government. Corporations' policies regulate how we do our work, communicate and organize to protest, and raise money.

Today, digital platforms are receiving more scrutiny from government regulators, but even in the days of Andrew Carnegie, his decisions on running his business and treating his employees had government-like consequences for many. It is perhaps no wonder that emerging generations are increasingly pushing us to consider private enterprise's social impact. (On this topic, we are hosting CECP on March 31.)

There is the notion that foundation philanthropy represents the "passing gear" for society or the source of policy innovation and experimentation that can then be adopted by the government. And even when it is not adopted by the government, a "best practice" invented in one part of civil society can quickly become broadly adopted elsewhere. This happens through national nonprofit networks or membership associations, but also through the internet and social media.

Philanthropy, especially in America, has celebrated associational life with benefits for self-government, creativity, and independence. This has also been used to justify the role of private foundations, as they add to the plurality of ways of associating.

In this view, private associations and foundations can generate useful innovations in part because they are not accountable to others. An alternative view of their unaccountability and independence is that they skew the political process and political outcomes.

For example, James Madison was concerned about the danger of factions in general. For contemporary commentators, it is often concentrations of wealth that are seen to be skewing policies, both governmental and non-governmental, to their benefit and at the broader public's expense.

But we do not need to only look at large corporate entities to see important policies outside the realm of government. We all participate in a wide variety of policy realms, some of which are explicitly about philanthropy.

For example, during the pandemic, we have seen a resurgence of mutual aid societies, emergency relief funds at different scales, and rapidly proliferating discussions about community empowerment and trust-based philanthropy.

Community organizations also make policies, sometimes odious ones, such as when many white communities closed public swimming pools rather than integrate them. As Heather McGhee forcefully argues in The Sum of Us, such racist policies make everyone less well off.

Even in our neighborhoods and families, we make policies that eventually have effects on formal governmental actions. Still, they also importantly affect all our lives regardless of how close they get to formal political power. To what extent are they informed by a spirit of philanthropy? Or do they resort to a spiteful closing of public space to advance an exclusionary, and sometimes hateful, elevation of one’s own dignity by diminishing that of others?  

In our everyday existence, we seek to give and to receive resources, attention, recognition, and fellowship. We have various ways of understanding these dynamics and the interplay of individual, small-scale, and large-scale interactions.

Economists often see the search for an advantageous exchange in many places. Political scientists see power infusing relationships among heads of state and within families. Psychologists see the human mind as the key player in their view of how each of us relates to ourselves and the world. Sociologists see broader social patterns manifesting themselves in local interactions. And anthropologists see patterns of culture and behavior through which we shape our ways of being in society. These are caricatures, but they serve to make a point.

We achieve insights when we see the world as composed of a singular dynamic, even though we know it only captures a partial if powerful truth. Many of us have favored explanations we like to apply across different contexts, our own versions of the myth that the world is held up by a giant turtle, which in turn rests on another turtle, all the way down to an infinite regress.

My favorite myth is that much that matters in my world rests on how philanthropy informs the policies we make, all the way down.

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

Effective leadership, successful fundraising

fundraising written on chalk board

By Bill Stanczykiewicz, Ed.D.

Fundraisers are managers utilizing a fundraising plan as a management document to achieve goals and meet metrics. However, even though fundraisers rarely hold a nonprofit's top staff position, fundraisers are also leaders. Knowing the difference between fundraising management and fundraising leadership is essential for fundraising success.

While management is focused on today's details, leadership is focused on tomorrow's possibilities. Those possibilities are rooted not in the fundraising plan's goals and metrics (i.e., management) but the vision and the impact of the nonprofit's mission.

The fundraising manager concentrates on how funds are being raised, by whom, and by when. The fundraising leader, in contrast, inspires everyone in the nonprofit by focusing on why the funds are being raised and what could be next if fundraising could increase to meet an expanding vision.

That vision is informed by constantly looking outside of the nonprofit and into the future. The fundraiser can study a range of trends including (but not limited to) the economy and the culture, laws and policies, and anything else in the external environment that could influence future fundraising, positively or negatively.

Paraphrasing former Apple executive John Sculley, the future belongs to those who are first to see future possibilities. The fundraising leader’s compelling vision, delivered with inspiration, galvanizes the entire organization around successful fundraising.

Leadership opportunities are available with all colleagues. For example, the leader’s direct influence with the fundraising team is clear since the fundraising staff reports to the leader. However, the fundraising leader also can lead up to the CEO and the board of directors, using the soft power derived from information and expertise to influence the fundraising activities of those who are higher up on the org chart.

When teaching effective leadership in our Certificate in Fund Raising Leadership program, The Fund Raising School relies on the definition provided by James MacGregor Burns in his seminal book, Leadership. According to Burns, leadership is “relational, collective, and purposeful. Leadership shares with power the central function of achieving purpose."

Leadership is relational, with the leader not perched above everyone else. Leadership is also collective, with the leader encouraging team members to work together, contributing their skills and abilities and their recommendations and concerns to strengthen the overall team effort.

You have developed significant fundraising skills, and now you have been promoted to lead the fundraising team. Especially for the new leader or the fundraising executive aspiring for a leadership position, in this course, you will learn how to develop and cast vision for your fundraising operation, recruit and retain talent, continually innovate, lead through consensus, address setbacks, and hold colleagues accountable for results.

The team's collective effort is aimed at achieving purpose. For the nonprofit organization, this purpose is to make the world a better place by fulfilling the organization's unique mission. 

Leading with the mission in mind is the essence of transformational leadership, promoting the organization’s success over each team member’s success. Focusing on the “why” of the mission also increases the possibilities for ethical fundraising since behaving unethically would damage the individual and the nonprofit. 

The fundamentals of transformational leadership also reveal why fundraisers are well-matched for leadership and, in fact, already are leaders. For example, successful fundraisers are already focused not on themselves but on helping donors experience the joy of giving in ways that strengthen the nonprofit’s impact. This is a transformational approach in which fundraisers lead toward organizational success, not personal achievement. 

As Dr. Lilya Wagner described in her book on transformational leadership and fundraising, “This is important for the fundraiser because our work is less about us than about everyone else, from donors to colleagues to community.” 

Fundraising is a management function, and yet fundraisers also have unique leadership opportunities. 

Check out the Effective Leadership, Successful Fundraising course »

Bill Stanczykiewicz, Ed.D., serves as assistant dean for external relations at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where he also directs The Fund Raising School.

Perspectives on Philanthropy Discussion Series with Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas

perspectives on philanthropy discussion series with Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas

Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas of Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) will join us virtually Mar. 31 to discuss her perspectives on how philanthropy affects our civic life now and moving forward.

Niedfeldt-Thomas serves as managing director, corporate leadership, of CECP, a CEO-led coalition that helps companies transform their social strategy. She is responsible for expanding and strengthening CECP’s engagement with its coalition companies and partner organizations, and for the organization’s thought leadership, company advisory services, and growth strategies.

The corporate leadership team creates value through strategic advisory and best practices across a range of ESG issues; expertly curated knowledge and convenings including CECP’s annual summit and bimonthly roundtables; research and data insights by advancing how companies measure, benchmark, and lead with their data and investments; and CECP’s Global Exchange, an international network uniting country-based, mission-driven corporate societal engagement organizations to advance the corporate sector as a force for good around the world.

Register now to join us »

Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in the news

improving philanthropy to improve the world on back of t-shirt

The New York Times, "Here’s How to Give to Women’s Causes"
Jeannie Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, is quoted and WPI’s Women and Girls Index is cited in this column by “Wealth Matters” columnist Paul Sullivan. 

The New York Times, "At MOMA, Leader Tied to Epstein is Criticized"
Bill Stanczykiewicz, assistant dean for external relations, is quoted in this story about Leon Black’s role as chairman of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 

The New York Times, "MacKenzie Scott, a Philanthropist and Ex-Wife of Jeff Bezos, Remarries"
Debra Mesch, the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy, is quoted about Scott’s decision to include her new husband in her charitable giving plans. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "New Program Trains Athletes in Advocacy and Philanthropy" (subscription required)
LaKoya Rochell, director of programs for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, and Una Osili, Dean’s Fellow for the Mays Family Institute, are quoted in this article about the institute’s new Athlete to Advocate professional executive certificate program.

WISH-TV, "Community Link: Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy"
In this video clip, co-host Carolene Mays-Medley interviews LaKoya Rochell, director of programs for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, about the institute’s work and its new Athlete to Advocate professional executive certificate program. 

Inside Higher Ed, "How to Count Philanthropy"
Dean Amir Pasic is quoted in this article about new global reporting standards for fundraising released by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).