The Really Low Hanging Fruit

Recently I wrote about “low hanging fruit” in philanthropy and why as much as I like theoretical debates, philanthropy needs to focus on the basics. Renata Rafferty asked me if I meant “basic” basics or “philanthrocapitalism “basics”. I meant real nuts and bolts basics.

At my firm Ensemble Capital I’ve helped clients partner with larger foundations, work with banks to provide loans to grantees, design strategic plans and recruit well known board members. But the things we’ve done that have the most impact are often “basic” basic. I’ve help a small business owner decide to gift his company to a donor advised fund prior to selling it rather than sell it and then think about philanthropy. That kind of simple thinking can increase the donors ability to give by 50% or more.

When I asked Renata (the author of Don’t Just Give It Away) what she meant by “basic” basic, she supplied the following list.

Basic “basic” is REALLY basic — for example:

DON’T respond to telephone, e-mail and snail mail solicitations from organizations about which you know nothing

DON’T assume you have no right to input, or feedback, on the use of your donation

DON’T assume that 990s or charity rating websites have all (or any) of the answers to the questions you should be asking before giving

DON’T just give it away 😉

DO think about what specific change you wish to make in your community or your world

DO explore various organizations that are working to make that change happen

DO actively evaluate whether this is an organization to which you will trust both your money and your hope for change

DO leverage that gift in any of the multiple ways available to you to do so

By “Philanthrocapitalism” basic, I’m referring to those ideas, principles, and actions that require an understanding and concern for the global ramifications of social cause and effect, from which stem systems or methodologies of giving/leading that seek to harness the forces, strengths, experiences, and leaders of the free marketplace and aye, the free world.

By basic-basic, I’m talking about getting most people to simply be more thought-full (and not just feeling-full) about their charitable giving … the vast majority of donors just are not there yet).

The more advanced-basic practically requires a degree (or at least an interest) in economics, business, sociology, psychology, and or “philanthropy.”


  1. Alanna says:

    Bravo. If everyone had this list of true basics, giving would be a lot more effective.

  2. Extremely Simple Low Hanging Fruit – Particularly for Schools

    I for one actually believe in the “wisdom of crowds” and the basic goodness of people, and it’s in the realm of “donor education” where the non-profit sector has royally screwed up.

    It’s spent the last 50 years convincing people that “program expenses” are good that “administrative expenses” (which I prefer to “overhead” it’s less pejorative) are bad, and now when I talk to fundraisers and executive leadership they bemoan how hard it is to get unrestricted funds.

    Well, what do you expect when you spend half a century training your donors that this a bad idea?

    The fact that workplace giving dollars are unrestricted is just one of the many benefits of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). To learn more, go to and request the special report.

    Here is an example of low hanging fruit, is a type of ‘donor education” that would not cost anyone an additonal dollar, but it would still have a huge impact.

    At least in the Washington, DC area the majority of large grocery chains, Safeway, Giant, and at least one large department store (Target) have programs where you can sign up to support the schools in your region, where some small percentage of your purchases go to the school.

    Many schools themselves have a pretty decent donor education message to the parents of their students, with step by step instructions on how to sign up, what the code is for their school, etc.

    Where the school’s donor education falters however, is that there is usually not a good method for getting these instructions out to the broader community, including everyone who does not have kids in school.

    If just 10% of the residents without kids in school would sign up for these programs, it would help out the school age children, and if you think your local school gets plenty of references, you can choose to support one in a different area.

    It’s low hanging fruit, but since it’s not an issue of conflict, mainstream media will never report it, and schools in general don’t have ways to reach the broader community.

    The non-profit sector needs a place to post these type of instructions, guidelines, etc. with step-by-step simple ways to make a difference.

    Bill Huddleston, CFC Expert