Making Philanthropy “Made to Stick”

The book Made to Stick should be required reading for all nonprofits and foundations. The book examines how ideas spread and why some ideas are “sticky” (ie. spread easily) and some are not.

Today I have a little project for my readers (with a prize!). In Made to Stick, the authors talk about why some ideas are memorable. One of the memory “tricks” they point to is the use of acronyms that spell words. The one they use to describe what makes an idea sticky is SUCCESs: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotional, Stories.

So I’m wondering what words best describe great philanthropy (we’ll worry about turning them into a catchy, or corny (?) acronym later). To add a little fun to the project. I’ll be giving away a $50 gift certificate to Vitanna (thanks @jessamynlau!)– microfinance for student loans in developing countries – to a randomly chosen participant in the project.

The Rules:

In the comments section of this post, write three things

  • A single word that describes great philanthropy
  • A sentence explaining the word
  • A paragraph elaborating on the word

For instance, an entry might read like this.


Knowledge is a more valuable asset than money in the practice of good philanthropy.

While most donors focus on the money they give away, the knowledge of what works and what does not in the social sphere is a more valuable asset in the practice of good philanthropy. This means that while donors should of course make donations (ie. share their money) they should also focus on sharing their knowledge with other donors. Doing so gives donors the opportunity add impact to donations made by others.

I look forward to your entries! The contest will run through this Sunday at midnight (pacific time) and I’ll use to select which of the comments gets the Vittana gift certificate. Feel free to submit as many words as you like. Only comments which follow the entry guidelines will be eligible for the prize.


  1. Rich Polt says:


    Passion is the lifeblood of good philanthropy because it sustains ones giving over the course of a lifetime.

    Effective philanthropy, like anything in life, requires experimentation and long term commitment. Some things work. Some don’t. But without passion as an underlying motivator, no one will have the gumption, stamina, and drive to weather failure and truly make a difference.

  2. Love it, Rich! Exactly the sort of entry I’m looking for.

  3. Social

    Philanthropy is a social enterprise. People give to help society, to be recognized among their peer group, and also to see a part of themselves and their legacy left behind for future generations.

    The study, The Impact of Giving Together reported that social events produced the highest percentage (31.6%) of engaging in giving circles. The recent crisis in Haiti prompted a wave of awareness and wireless text and online giving using social networking and other social technologies. Social is sticky; we are all connected. 🙂

    (Great post, Sean! I read Made To Stick over the summer and it has helped me immensely. I even wrote a few book reviews on it for a writing class, which reminds me I should post them. Haha!)

  4. Autumn, I agree with the concept of social being key to engaging people in philanthropy. But could you connect the role of “social” in practicing “great philanthropy”? I think it is there, but not sure how to express it.

  5. I think the role of “Social” in practicing great philanthropy is the power of leveraging the aforementioned “Passion” and “Knowledge”, to produce social engagement and action.

    One educated donor is good. One educated donor who talks with other educated donors, who then, collaborate and act towards one common goal or NPO/Foundation program is great.

    One effective NPO with an effective model (or models) is good. A network of effective NPOs, who have effective models, and know how to communicate the success of their models to educated donors, who may, in turn, leverage their resources to implement more successful models-either within the existing NPO or in another- is GREAT. (I hope that makes sense.)

  6. Connected
    Being connected with others for maximum impact makes good philanthropy great.
    Personal giving is satisfying in a special way, but truly great things happen when the knowledge, enthusiasm, ideas and energy of many individuals come together in service of the greater good. The impact is greater on the chosen cause and on the donors, as they feel connected to their purpose and to each other.

  7. Hope

    “To hope” means to look to the future with confidence that a wish or desire can be fulfilled.

    Great philanthropy turns hope into action, desire into reality. Without hope, great philanthropy would never come to be. (Who would invest in the future without a confident expectation that it could turn out as we desire?) What’s more, an individual’s act of philanthropy communicates hope to others, increasing our shared confidence that a desired future is within reach.

    And those who facilitate philanthropy — “fund raisers” and advisors — can play a far greater, even historic, role in society than is usually recognized. What greater contribution right now than to increase our shared confidence in the future?

  8. Guy Ravid says:

    PHAME (Philanthropy adding more effectiveness)

    Effectiveness is a valuable contribution a philanthropist can add to a charity (NPO).

    Most NPO’s leaders can explain their theory of change, i.e. what they wish to achieve for their beneficiaries and how they want to achieve it. Hardly ever they can provide evidence showing that they on the right track. A sophisticated philanthropist would invest in capacity building, in measurement tools, and in learning and improvement culture, rather than in designated grants, and thus contribute best to the effectiveness of the organization.

  9. Juicy

    Juicy philanthropy fires neurons and heartbeats for the giver and receiver.

    Brain scans and neuro-chemical analysis indicate that “the givers high” has a scientific basis. Juicy philanthropy produces an upward spiral where the giver and receiver engage in “pay it forward” infectious acts of kindness. The distinction between the giver and receiver is erased. There just might be a caring gene or at least a pre-disposition to care and give. It is through giving and receiving that we discover who we are . . . and what matters to us.

  10. Lauren says:


    Great philanthropy is relatable – people immediately understand why the cause matters to them.

    Great philanthropy has a message that speaks for itself – potential supporters understand why they should care and how the cause is relevant to them. Potential supporters will “get it” without needing to be given a long explanation.

  11. afhny says:


    A lack of false pride allows us to be open to a variety of approaches to how we give and what we support.

    Great philanthropy understands that many of the problems it attacks have multiple causes, are influenced by many factors, and require perseverance in the face of failure. It keeps its eyes on the prize.

  12. Laura Deaton says:


    Capacity is the ability to learn, grow, develop, accomplish, and produce remarkable outcomes.

    Good philanthropy helps organizations continue to produce good results. Great philanthropy creates opportunities for entire communities to build capacity, achieve mission-focused outcomes, and stretch toward their visions. The glass is neither half-empty, nor half-full. Instead, a great philanthropist helps fill the “community” glass to its brim and then joins with others to provide a bigger glass.

  13. Catherine Onyemelukwe says:

    Relationships are key to philanthropy because we all want to feel valued for our giving, whether of time, talent, or treasure.
    Building vibrant relationships with donors, funders, and volunteers is the foundation of philanthropy. People become connected through their relationships to others. Vision and mission are important, but engage the head. To engage the heart takes a person who shares values and goals, and communicates the passion.

  14. Amy Kincaid says:

    Ooh…that was going to be mine (humility, or rather)


    Humble means understanding deeply one’s role and how to fit into and onto the production.

    Humble philanthropy knows “no small actors, just small parts.” It knows it’s place in the ensemble–key and critical, but not the only or most important. It plays appropriately to the size of the stage and the house. It understands the house acoustics and knows how (and when to project). It draws from technique, experience, hard work, and improvisation. It amplifies the energy from the text, the other actors, crew, director, producer, and audience.

    (or maybe the word, after all, is Dramatic)

  15. Amy Kincaid says:


    Flexible philanthropy responds specifically and on a case-by-case basis (from a wide angle perspective).

    Flexible philanthropy recognizes that there isn’t just one problem, there isn’t just one response, there isn’t just one business or financing or program growth model, there isn’t just one best type of leader, and so on. Flexible philanthropy understands that the best investment connects a unique collection of elements (particular leaders, particular communities, particular stakeholders, particular environments, particular clients/customers, particular histories) to help amplify impact.

    (no one yet to make the case for “strategic”?)

  16. Cindy G says:

    I know that it’s impossible and impractical to be completely altruistic if we want philanthropy to be strategic and effective, but wouldn’t it be great if we did the right thing just because it was the right thing to do? If we did good deeds and didn’t feel the need to put our logo on it?

    To me, great philanthropy needs at least an ounce of altruism, otherwise it’s just a marketing strategy.

  17. Aaron Miller says:


    The best philanthropy nurtures ideas and efforts to bear fruit.

    Growing anything to the point it bears fruit requires the cultivator to tend, protect, and occasionally prune his or her charges. This is done always with patience and consistency, mindful of the fruit to be borne. The cultivator recognizes that in spite of his or her nurturing, it’s the seed itself that ultimately bears the fruit.

  18. Dien Yuen says:


    Philanthropy is aspirational and dreams of doing big things. As we try to connect these higher, lofty goals to the day-to-day work, whether it is with our grantees or donors, we need to do it in a way that is meaningful and practical for them. We can’t ask a two-person shop to deliver a 10 page logic model. At the same time, we shouldn’t encourage philanthropists to tackle issues in ways we understand them to be. Philanthropy is a contact sport. It needs to be lived and practiced – everyday in practical, simple ways.

  19. Weaving

    Philanthropic weaving is a practice that forms a connected whole, one that creates webs and networks across issues and types of work, similarities and differences, forming a resilient movement.

    Philanthropists enjoy a bird’s eye view and have relationships with a wide variety of leaders, organizations and other philanthropists. Connecting the dots and working toward creating networks among those with common values and (sometimes) shared purpose supports sustainable change.

    (from Helen Brunner, Media Democracy Fund & Quixote Foundation consultant)

  20. Intention

    Intentional philanthropy is more than the act of writing checks—it is the willingness to be strategic, thoughtful, and sometimes patient.

    These are trying times and it’s easy(er) to assume that the best way to solve the problems facing our world is to throw grant money at them in hopes of landing on a solution. But solutions to big problems require intentional philanthropy. That means sometimes the best way to proceed is to listen, collaborate and hold onto the knowledge that change doesn’t happen overnight.

    (from Aana Lauckhart, Quixote Foundation staff member)

  21. Freedom

    Philanthropic Freedom is the excited enthusiasm to give back to the social good that which has been given, earned and/or entrusted.

    When the notion of freedom is embraced in philanthropy, the awesome power of choice and responsibility allows giving to flow easily and freely without specific worry to the measurable outcomes. It instead becomes the joy of planting a thousand seeds, knowing that some will take root and flower and some may never show their blossoms but will never-the-less serve to enrich the soil.

    (from June Wilson, Quixote Foundation staff & board member)

  22. Tilting

    “Tilting” philanthropy is willing to charge into solving problems other funders don’t see, or issues they find too complex and scary to tackle. Philanthropy needs donors willing to be the first into a new field or funding approach as different problems arise in the world. Conventional wisdom suggests looking to peers for collaboration and signs of confidence before you fund. Don’t chuck this advice completely, but remember someone has to be first, and be okay with the gamble of not getting things completely right. Maybe you’re in a position to lead by taking that risk!

    (from Don Quixote, Quixote Foundation muse)

  23. Ecosystem

    Ecosystem philanthropy recognizes a community together with its environment, functioning as a unit.

    Philanthropy is powerful when it recognizes that an organization, issue, strategy or constituency of interest exists within an ecosystem—no one entity can or should be isolated or disconnected from the other elements. While donors may not fund the entire ecosystem of a given area of focus, it is essential that they recognize and find some way to value the full complement of forces operating within the ecosystem, so that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

    (from Allison Barlow, Funders Committee on Civic Participation board member & Quixote Foundation consultant)

  24. * A single word that describes great philanthropy


    * A sentence explaining the word

    Great philanthropy is an expression of empathy — of recognizing oneself in another, and responding compassionately to our shared experiences.

    * A paragraph elaborating on the word

    Empathy requires understanding, or knowing, another’s story. Seeing ourselves in it. When philanthropy follows from empathy — from that emotional point of recognition — we have a better chance of effecting positive change when start to move resources in the name of helping.

  25. Jeanine Buford says:


    When it’s at its best, philanthropy is gracious, graceful, and administered with a light touch.

    When we think of grace, apart from the religious connotations, we think of support given with seriousness of purpose, but with a light touch. Graciousness supports without judgement, without pity, and without self-satisfaction. Gracious graceful philanthropy is humble, enlightening, and gives equally to the giver and receiver.

  26. Mariel García says:

    I wholeheartedly agree on the use of the term ’empathetic’ that Christine proposed for the description of philanthropy. I think that it really hits what sets philanthropy apart from other forms of action.

    The reason why I think it does it is that it speaks about the drive, and not the means or the outcomes. We have cases like the one of social entrepreneurship, in which basically people operate like traditional entrepreneurs to do philanthropy. On the side of the outcomes, there are cases of philanthropical actions that just don’t deliver for x or y reason. Maybe someone establishes this organization, with the best of intentions, to provide aid, but doesn’t really achieve anything beyond a big expense. But we wouldn’t really classify it as a form of business, right? Because empathy was that person’s drive. This person wanted to help others.

    That said, ’empathy’ as a drive of human action is, I think, unique of philanthropy. It isn’t really present, for example, in the industry of business. It can be argued that it is the drive of practices like medicine (in it’s original, not-for-the-sake-of-money form) – but wouldn’t that be considered a form of philanthropy?

  27. Susan Shiroma says:

    Great philanthropy is…


    Great philanthropy is American democracy at its best.

    When private foundations build public libraries and institutions of higher learning we are empowered to be a better people and a civil society. When private foundations fund lasting innovations in medical and scientific research we are empowered to be a healthier society. When private foundations use philanthropy to support solutions to needs not yet imagined, we will be a stronger nation, and one that continues to value liberty and justice for all.

  28. E. Ericson says:


    of what it aims to achieve;
    of how to measure its impact;
    of avoiding complacency;
    and of what is actually needed.

  29. Seema Bhende says:

    Social Impact

    Social impact is critical to great philanthropy. Great act of philanthropy bring communities or groups of people together to make a difference that has tangible impact (improving the life of another person, helping the environment). While I wholeheartedly support random acts of kindness to people in need, great philanthropy rallies people to make a quantifiable impact on an issue/cause. Philanthropy is sustainable when resources are pooled and metrics/results of the efforts can be shown.

  30. Kyle Reis says:


    Humility is the quality of modesty and respectfulness in your dealings with others, particularly grantees.

    Humility in philanthropy implies the ability to assume you don’t have the answers to the problems you are solving, to accept that most of the people you are supporting have earned much more of a right to speak on the subject matter than you, and to know that the problems you are able to make headway on will be, if you are lucky, only tangentially the result of your efforts.

  31. Philanthropacious

    This just-invented word describes philanthropy that has lots of room for creativity, generosity, and big ideas. The new ending brings shades of ‘spacious’, ‘capacious’, and even ‘audacious’.

    The philanthropacious donor gives the kind of gifts that enable nonprofits to explore new frontiers, encouraging innovation, involvement, and unconfined ideas. He or she is wise, happy, and comfortable in active philanthropy, satisfied to let it soar, perhaps in a number of new directions.

  32. Shannon Scott says:

    Empathy – the ability to share in aonther’s emotions, thoughts or feelings.

    Isn’t this what giving is all about – putting yourself in the shoes of someone else and asking yourself how you would feel in their position. Until we have a true understanding of the “needs” of others we cannot “effectively” help.