In yesterday’s post, the foundation looking for “extraordinary and unorthodox philanthropic opportunities” described themselves as “issue-agnostic”. A traditional view of giving suggests giving springs from a donor’s passion for a particular issue. Yet, I’m running across an increasing number of donors/funders who describe themselves as issue-agnostic or some similar term.
A few examples:
- Jerry Hirsch’s Lodestar Foundation, which holds as a core principal that they are “not focused on any specific field of interest and focus instead on leveraging resources (that is, providing the most help with the most effective and efficient use of resources)”
- A client of mine who at our first meeting recently told me that he is “agnostic to issue area” and is primarily interested in opportunities to help bring to scale highly leveraged impact models.
- The numerous foundations which focus on supporting “social entrepreneurs,” which is a way of describing an organizational-type without regard to issue-area.
Taking an issue-agnostic approach to philanthropy is at once odd and exciting. It is odd, because giving is an act of caring and if a donor is issue-agnostic the obvious question becomes, “what exactly do you care about?” But it is exciting because it suggests an emerging set of donors are more interested in impact maximization rather than simply taking action to support the causes they care about most.
While a few donors may truly only care about one or two core issues, most donors probably care about many different issue. It isn’t unusual for a mainstream donor to care, in varying degrees, about; education, the environment, children, the arts, health care, job skill training, animals, etc, etc. Conventional philanthropy advice, which I’ve given myself, is to encourage a donor to prioritize the areas the care about and focus their giving on the issues for which they have the most passion.
What if that advice has things all backwards? What if a better approach is for a donor to identify all issue areas about which they have any sort of interest and then seek out philanthropic opportunities that maximize impact with the broad set of issue areas?
I have to say that on its surface, this seems like a utilitarian approach to philanthropy that actually runs the risk of sucking the joy out of giving (can you imagine the joyless mission statement: “We don’t care what good we do, just that we do a lot of it!!” However, in my experience, the most emotionally satisfying philanthropic gift is one which the donor believes with conviction actually made a difference.
Quick quiz, which would be more satisfying to you as a donor:
- The act of making a gift to a charity within the issue area you are most passionate about.
- Having conviction that the gift you made to a charity actually made a real difference within one of the many issue areas about which you care?
Of course the two approaches don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Hopefully, donors can find high impact philanthropic opportunities within the issue area about which they are most passionate. But imagine the ramifications if donors shifted their priorities such that impact was #1 and issue area was #2 (or even lower).
What do you think? Are you an issue-centric or impact-centric donor? Would the world be better or worse off if donors shift from issue-centric to impact-centric? Would such a shift make philanthropy more utilitarian or more joyful?