Highlighting the importance of Twitter adding social entrepreneurs/philanthropists to their suggested user list, Acumen Fund (who now has 50,000 twitter followers after being added to the list; more followers than the subscriber base of the Chronicle of Philanthropy) tweeted about my Is Kiva Misleading the Public post from earlier today. By pushing the story out to 50,000 people, many of who have little philanthropy experience, Acumen Fund is helping to reshape the narrative as I wrote about in my last post.
The thread also prompted reader Ian David Moss to suggest a better title for the post (an example of reframing the debate and changing the narrative):
This post might be better titled, “Are donors misleading themselves?” And I think the answer would, all too often, have to be YES. It’s not just individual donors, either. This is why people like Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and Center for Effective Philanthropy put so much emphasis on LISTENING to the grantee (to say nothing of prospective grantees). Yes, the donor or the foundation may have a broader perspective that the recipient lacks — but recipients usually know best what their needs (or the needs of the population they serve) are.
This goes straight to one of the central bugaboos of giving: the unequal power relationships in philanthropy. One has to remember that people who are in a position to give money away, whether it’s their own or others’, are used to calling the shots. They are used to being told that they are smart and they are right, because the people telling them such things want their money and don’t want to risk offending them. It’s very hard to get out of a bubble like that, because people who both a) know enough about your cause or field to critique your giving intelligently and b) don’t care about your opinion of them are hard to find. And you have to push yourself to seek out those opinions. After all, most of us like being told that we are smart and right, the more often the better. It’s all to easy to start to believe one’s own hype…and after that, it’s toast.
Ultimately, donors will need to decide who they’re really trying to please with their donations. If they actually do want to help other people, then sometimes they’re going to have to put aside the ego and the emotion and perform a selfless act of giving.
Ian is right. Yes, Kiva appears to be misleading in how they describe their process. But that’s just the battle. The war we must win is getting donors to stop misleading themselves. However, I disagree with Ian when he says that the switch means donors have to become selfless. Instead, I would argue it is simply a process of changing the narrative. Personally, I can think of nothing so satisfying as investing in an outstanding nonprofit and vesting them with the power to make tough decisions. I don’t need them to reinforce my misperceptions to gain joy from the gift, instead the joy in my giving comes from becoming a part of the community that gives rise to an outstanding organization that actually has an impact on the world.
This is the joy of being an investor in a nonprofit. It is a far more deeply satisfying joy than the flash of pride a donor might get from directing a nonprofit to behave the way the donor thinks is best.