One way to think about the big shift in philanthropy is a shift in focus from intentions to results. We are starting to care more about whether a donation make a difference rather than simply applauding the gift. We are starting to talk more about how donors can actually help rather than simply urging people to give.
One person who is very focused on this topic is Saundra Schimmelpfennig who runs the aptly named Good Intentions Are Not Enough consultancy and blog. Over the last few days Saundra has been leading a social media campaign against TOMS Shoes. TOMS is a media darling of the for-profit for good space. The company donates a pair of shoes to “a child in need” for every pair of shoes that customers buy. Any reading of the founder’s biography seems to make clear that he has completely good intentions. But does TOMS actually create good results for the children they seek to help?
Saundra thinks the answer is a clear no. As a sort of guerilla campaign against TOMS’ Day Without Shoes program, she lead a social media fueled Day Without Dignity campaign that resulted in the video below being produced:
The fact that good intentions don’t always create good results is one of the most upsetting ideas in philanthropy. When Felix Salmon of Reuters recently wrote that making donations to Japan wasn’t the best way to help, his column was deluged with outraged comments from readers even though Salmon’s post was about how best to respond to the Japanese disasters. But recognizing that good intentions and good results are not the same is a maturation event for philanthropy and for our culture.
I think though that it is critical that those of us who seek to encourage a focus on good results do so in a way that does not undermine people’s good intentions. There’s no quicker way to sap the empathy of donors than to tell them they’re fools for trying to help. But we also have a responsibility to not simply smile and say thank you.
The Good Results shift in philanthropy is not going to really take off until the effective philanthropy movement figures out how to appreciate people’s good intentions while simultaneously working to channel intentions that do not produce results into more productive efforts.