Sean Stannard-Stockton’s great post on Tactical Philanthropy this morning got me thinking about how we’ve been looking at this tension between using one’s heart or head in philanthropy. A main part of our mission is to help donors make more strategic donations—the thinking with one’s head part rather than one’s heart. Because we think it’s more strategic, we encourage donors to support entire social causes rather than just one child in Mali (to use Sean’s example). But are we being unrealistic and possibly even naïve to think that donors might actually change their behavior and give this way?
Well, kind of.
So how can we present enough analytical, good information to donors so we can fulfill our mission without making it seem too much like the site is focused only on the thinking part? Could we meet the donor half-way by providing high quality information that admittedly only begins to scratch the surface of things one might consider when making decisions about charitable giving? We think so. Therefore, we provide some information in each organization’s profile, but not an overwhelming amount. That was deliberate. And, through our expert mutual fund, we present a recommended allocation, so the donor can easily take action.
In Jeff Raderstrong’s interesting blog on Change Charity, he said of Philanthropedia: “the concept of a mutual fund might cause people to just take the advice and not think critically about their donations.” That’s a great way to look at this tension we’re talking about! Yes, we do want donors to take the advice of these experts, but Jeff’s right that that makes this kind of giving a little more passive than one might ideally like. But is this more involved giving realistic for all donors out there?
Right now, I just don’t think it is. I really believe that meeting the donor half-way, if you will, is a great alternative. Just by coming to Philanthropedia’s website indicates one’s interest in giving more strategically—a win for those of us encouraging smarter giving! In the six weeks that our website has been live, we’ve seen thousands of these people come to our site. It is encouraging to see that donors do want this kind of good information. Right now, we see the mutual fund as the best way to reach a broad audience of folks who care to give this way. If we can engage younger, newer donors to think more strategically by providing them with some resources and tools, as they earn more money throughout their lives, perhaps they will “graduate” to more involved giving through a community foundation or something of the sort later on. That could be a pretty good outcome.
So what can we do now to make giving through Philanthropedia more personal and emotional for the donor? At the founding of Philanthropedia, co-founder Howard Bornstein talked about Philanthropedia’s philosophy as “choosing a social cause with one’s heart, but choosing an organization with one’s mind.” We think this is a nice way to think about giving. But are there other things we can do to engage the donor on a more personal level? Through videos? Pictures? Testimonials? We’re only starting to explore the best ways to marry these two elements, head and heart, through our site. But, with good information to point donors in the right direction for the “head” piece, and interest from the community of donors out there, I’m sure we can find a way to serve donors’ interest in being personally connected with the cause. And while Philanthropedia can’t serve every donor’s needs, we really hope we can engage an audience of new donors who want an easy and smart way to make a difference.