Philanthropy has changed as trends change.
Simon Bisson, vice president, institutional relations and development at University Hospitals; Laura Desmond, senior partner, advancement at JumpStart; and Natalie Ronayne, chief development officer at Cleveland Metroparks, all in Cleveland, said philanthropy has changed over the years in big ways.
“It’s still all about building relationships and finding what people are passionate about and how they can further their own dreams through an organization’s mission,” Ronayne said. “But, there are a bunch of new tools to reach people now. It will always fall back to how we’re communicating impact.”
Bisson agreed, saying philanthropy is still a personal business. But, its changes are more fundamental.
“Modern philanthropy, as opposed to charity, which was its predecessor, is characterized by private action for the public good,” he said. “This is voluntary activity and people investing in causes they are passionate about.”
Desmond said modern philanthropy more so looks at the theory of change to “coalesce things in the community.”
“The parts people use today are giving their time, talent and treasure,” she explained. “Not only giving financial support but bringing their advocacy or volunteerism.”
The professionals noted the rise in technology use as one of the factors driving change.
Ronayne stated, “Technology has been a big part of this change, and from that perspective, the individual choices are more informed. There are more causes, more ways to give. A supporter’s expectations have changed too. Digital is instant and the way we live is changing. That is also permeating philanthropy in the way donors want instant knowledge of how their gift is making a difference. Everything is tailored to your specific desires and notion of giving.”
Desmond added, “Obviously, with everything in the advent of the internet and social media, that has really changed this on a large continuum. You still have your mega-gifts, ones that are really large and make outsized impacts, and crowdfunding. These are much smaller gifts and are more like a movement.”
Bisson credited specific aspects of technology like the use of data and analytics.
“That tells us a lot about people’s behavior and how they might give,” he said. “But at its core, the tenants of modern philanthropy haven’t changed. It’s building trust, credibility, and respect and helping donors achieve their philanthropic mission.”
Bisson also said transparency in philanthropy has grown, too.
“Most organizations are posting their fundraising information online,” he explained. “Years ago, that wasn’t the case as information wasn’t as readily available. So, donors are able to make more informed decisions on their own based on their own research.”
With philanthropy changing all the time, it’s important for organizations to also have a bit of flexibility.
“You have to change or be left behind,” Desmond noted. “It’s very positive that we have people who are willing to give both their voice and time to furthering a mission.”
Ronayne added, “The role of the organization is understanding how the donor wants to be engaged with. Accessibility and, frankly, staying relevant is important.”
Bisson said it’s important to adapt, but not change everything.
“You’ve always got to stay relevant,” he stated. “If you become old and antiquated, you become less visible and less effective. But, I wouldn’t say an organization should do all their fundraising online. That’s only one of the avenues. You still need to have the old-fashioned way of fundraising as those things are always going to have a relevant place. You need to adapt and change, but I wouldn’t throw out your fundraising strategy for one trend.”
As for the future of philanthropy, the professionals expect specific things to arise.
“We know that there will be a transfer of wealth,” Bisson said. “That will be different from the way (the younger generation’s) grandparents connected with nonprofits. Organizations can’t stand still and assume it will continue. We have to reach out to younger generations and pass the torch of philanthropy onto them.”
Ronayne said,“Watching this group is important to the long-term health of an organization. Young people have a lot of voice and power, so their role in philanthropy and how they want to give is important.”