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When philanthropy gets personal

My friend Nathaniel James has a kickstarter-like project going in order to fund a 90-day tour gathering stories and information about “New Giving.” (Yes, this is a self-reflective New Giving project.) He’s got five days left to reach the tipping point so that the project actually gets funded. Nathaniel is a smart, sincere, good-hearted person, so I kicked in a little bit.

But I have reservations. Not about Nathaniel. About this model of funding. I am one of those people who resent it when friends hit me up for a donation for walking 20 miles or biking from here to wherever. If I wanted to give to those charities, I would, and I don’t see why your deciding to walk or ride or bob for apples or grow a moustache should affect my giving. And if it’s not those activities but your friendship itself that you’re bringing to bear, then I’m even more resentful and possibly a little angry. At least at sites like Start Some Good, the projects themselves do good in the world, unlike your request that we donate a dollar for every yard you slip down the Mount Washington Slidey-Rail. Still, as a norm, I would remove friends and relatives from the list of potential funders. If the project is worthwhile and the people are credible (two check marks for Nathaniel’s project), then it will get funded. If not, not.

But where I’d really like to apply this norm is to all the walkathons, swimathons, and begathons: If you can’t raise money from strangers because you’ve pledged to peel 5,000 bananas before sundown, then maybe it isn’t a charitable exercise worth pursuing. And second of all, get off of my lawn!

4 Responses to “When philanthropy gets personal”

  1. You may have a career in the movies. You could play the Fourth Stooge.

  2. I agree. If friends want to encourage us to donate to a cause that’s important to them, they should. But it feels more coercive, and frankly a little self-congratulatory, when they are doing a triathlon as a fundraiser. If you want to do a triathlon, do it. If you want to raise money, do it. There’s no good reason those should be combined.

    My 5-year old son just handed me a pledge form for the Muscular Dystrophy Hop-a-Thon that explicitly told us to write a letter to our family members and close friends asking them for money. It even included suggested text for the letter. On one hand, this annoyed me. But on the other, I think it gives him the idea that there are problems out there and by getting people together, he can help do something about them. (Of course, on the third hand, maybe it gives him the idea that a whatever-a-thon is the end and not the means.)

  3. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks, David! Cracked me up.

    You’re not the only one thinking about the downside to crowdfunding – the potential for massive, pervasive donor burnout. The Adventures project is looking for the good, but we’ll be asking tough questions like that. Thanks for the early interest and support!


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