Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon, of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, present two sides of the philanthropic equation in their new book, The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan.
Bronfman is the philanthropist and founder of his family foundation, and Solomon serves in the senior staff position as president of that organization. Together they bring years of experience to the advice and counsel they offer to budding philanthropists.
One of the conundrums the authors discuss is how a donor can figure out how to give in a way that achieves maximum results. They remind the readers of the parable of two men who see people drowning in a river. One of the men jumps in to save each person. The other man races up the stream to try to keep more people from falling in. The dilemma is always whether to address consequence or cause--immediate needs or the root causes.
Bronfman and Solomon suggest that donors not just direct their gifts to the support of services, but rather consider ways to help that leverage their contributions for greater impact. Those ways might not be as public, but, like the man preventing disaster from taking place before it happens, such gifts can have a powerful effect. The authors call these types of gifts "accelerants," because even small changes can make big differences.
Here are five giving possibilities that Bronfman and Solomon suggest in their book:
Think of the civil rights movement, the rights of women, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These societal changes have been brought about by activists who were funded in some measure by donors who put their gifts into long-range, but magnificent, goals. Such advocacy is not necessarily costly, but can have major impact.
Make a Targeted Gift to Support Marketing.
Marketing can dramatically improve the reach of a nonprofit, but this is the activity that often gets slashed when the organization faces tough times. It doesn't dare touch services so cuts back on outreach. A donor could support marketing efforts, such as a specific campaign that would bring in new supporters, clients, or customers. This type of support might actually generate many times its cost in new revenue. Marketing is usually overlooked by funders, as are other business expenses, such as an audit that might be required to apply for additional funding, a needs analysis, or a marketing survey.
Enhancing the capabilities of an organization can have long-range effects that will help it do its job more effectively. Consider technical assistance that helps the staff get more out of their existing systems such as database management. Infrastructure support might be as simple as improving insulation to cut overhead costs, or as profound as paying the legal fees for a class-action lawsuit that will help thousands of people.
Fund a Prize
Prizes have become a popular way to stimulate research into a particular disease or issue, or to spur innovation in an emerging field. Many are extremely well known, but others are more modest or serve specialized niches. Think of the X Prize, which encourages breakthrough innovation; The Templeton Prize, which recognizes intellectuals who unify science and religion; and the McArthur Fellows Program that funds people in a variety of fields who show the promise of great societal contributions and creativity.
Fund the Creation of Standards or Help an Organization in Meeting Them
In many fields, there is a need for new criteria and national standards. Bronfman and Solomon point out many such needs right in the field of philanthropy, such as the lack of standards for nonprofit boards. Also, many nonprofits don't have the funds to meet accreditation in their particular fields. Providing the funds for fairly simple things that help the organization reach the necessary standards can be life-giving to many small nonprofits and may allow them to serve many people.
All of these giving possibilities fit the criteria of "accelerants." Their effects go far beyond just the value of the gift. They affect root causes or expand capacity so more people can be ultimately served. Such gifts may not result in a building with your name on it, but all are sparks that can result in a much greater bonfire eventually.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.