In­no­va­tion vi­tal for phi­lan­thropy

Char­i­ta­ble sec­tor ‘cry­ing out’ for a dif­fer­ent ap­proach that will max­imise New Zealan­ders’ gen­eros­ity

The New Zealand Herald - - Opinion - Kirsten Tay­lor com­ment Kirsten Tay­lor is the phi­lan­thropy ser­vices man­ager for Per­pet­ual Guardian and man­ager of the Per­pet­ual Guardian Foun­da­tion.

They say in busi­ness you have to spend money to make money. A hard truth about phi­lan­thropy is that suc­cess­ful char­i­ties – the big brands that mar­ket them­selves ef­fec­tively and at­tract big donor dol­lars­for their cause – got there be­cause they were pre­pared to in­vest in build­ing an au­di­ence and mar­ket share in the same way as thriv­ing for-profit com­pa­nies do.

New Zealan­ders have long been ranked among the most giv­ing folk in the world. Re­cent data sug­gests we do­nate a stag­ger­ing $1.5 bil­lion a year as in­di­vid­u­als. Trusts, foun­da­tions and busi­nesses round the to­tal phi­lan­thropy up to nearly $3b.

Con­sid­er­ing the amount of money in­volved, it seems ab­surd to say we need to in­no­vate to strengthen and grow our phil­an­thropic sec­tor and pre­vent char­i­ties from stag­nat­ing, but it’s true. Let me ex­plain what we should be do­ing dif­fer­ently, and why.

The way we think about char­ity is wrong.

The po­si­tion taken by en­tre­pre­neur and hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tivist Dan Pal­lotta in his provoca­tive TED talk2 chal­lenges many long­stand­ing be­liefs and as­sump­tions about char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. Pal­lotta makes a good case for how the economies of de­vel­oped na­tions have evolved to put non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions at a se­ri­ous dis­ad­van­tage.

He ar­gues we have a ten­dency to con­fuse moral­ity with fru­gal­ity, in that we think a char­ity’s sec­ondary ob­jec­tive, after sup­port­ing its cause, should be to keep over­heads as low as pos­si­ble.

The ex­am­ples Pal­lotta gives are USbased, and the pu­ri­tan­i­cal ori­gins of char­ity as a form of pe­nance for cap­i­tal­ist in­dus­try aren’t quite the same here in New Zealand. But we do have a peren­nial de­bate over how much char­i­ties should spend on run­ning costs ver­sus their pri­mary pur­pose, and we need to take a more so­phis­ti­cated, busi­ness-minded ap­proach to phil­an­thropic growth.

There is ten­sion be­tween con­sol­i­da­tion (and cost-shar­ing) and creat­ing as much char­ity as pos­si­ble. The ar­gu­ment over whether char­i­ties with aligned ob­jec­tives should sim­ply pool their re­sources is a worth­while dis­cus­sion.

New Zealand has more reg­is­tered char­i­ties per capita than any other coun­try in the world, and there may be value in con­sol­i­da­tion to share back-of­fice ex­penses and (in the­ory) devote more to the front­lines. But equally, many givers say there’s no such thing as too much char­ity.

Pal­lotta’s com­pelling ar­gu­ment is that an ac­tiv­ity of­ten dis­missed as a costly and dis­pens­able over­head – namely, au­di­ence-broad­en­ing and aware­nesslift­ing fundrais­ing events – is cru­cial to grow­ing the pie and mak­ing it pos­si­ble for char­i­ties to do far more for their causes over time.

The sec­tor is cry­ing out for in­no­va­tion, for a dif­fer­ent ap­proach that max­imises Ki­wis’ re­mark­able gen­eros­ity.

A ter­rific ex­am­ple is Wood for the Trees, a char­ity founded by sev­eral mates after they lost their best friend to sui­cide. Their goals are to help those suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness and spread aware­ness about men­tal health.

To re­lieve these in­tractable prob­lems they are pre­pared to do some things that break the char­ity mould, start­ing with com­bin­ing their net­works to cre­ate a pow­er­ful phil­an­thropic en­gine for a char­ity-event style of fundrais­ing.

The char­ity is bring­ing to­gether horses and Har­ley-David­sons in an un­prece­dented fam­ily-friendly event, the Out the Gate Race Day at Eller­slie Race­course on De­cem­ber 16. It will fea­ture horse rac­ing, live stunt shows, per­for­mances and speeches from the likes of Mike King, Tiki Taane and the rem­nants of Hello Sailor, and there will be the chance to win a new Har­ley-David­son.

Char­ity events are not new, of course, but an event of this type, tar­get­ing fam­i­lies and of­fer­ing a fun day out in a large cen­tral Auck­land lo­ca­tion, pushes fundrais­ing and con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal health into a new, ac­ces­si­ble main­stream space.

Wood for the Trees is a group from all walks of life, who re­alised that if they pooled their re­sources, con­tacts and en­ergy, they could make a dif­fer­ence, and work­ing with pub­lic fig­ures such as King, who al­ready has a high pro­file in men­tal health ad­vo­cacy, is a smart move.

They are pig­gy­back­ing on ex­ist­ing en­ti­ties, spokes­peo­ple and fund­ing to build their own brand while push­ing the whole move­ment for­ward, and are set­ting them­selves apart by be­ing will­ing to spend money (such as by giv­ing away a Har­ley) to make money and raise aware­ness. Great in­no­va­tion doesn’t come from the drive to win. It comes out of a deep de­sire to con­trib­ute to the lives of oth­ers.

Givers can tar­get their do­na­tions by look­ing for hall­marks of in­no­va­tion. We are of­ten asked, how do I know which char­ity to sup­port? Which or­gan­i­sa­tions are well-run and will do the best with my money?

A good start is to look at how a char­ity func­tions in its space.

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