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I was traveling for business last month when I found myself at the dinner table with a group of industry professionals. Some were consultants, and some were on staff with different nonprofit organizations. Collectively, we represented various demographics of age, gender and race, and each of us carried the knowledge and experience of having served in various areas of philanthropy (donor relations, events, executive, etc.).

As we moved from appetizers to the main course, the conversation naturally evolved from the specifics of the business at hand to a more philosophical debate about philanthropy today. As we discussed topics ranging from siloed staffing structures to the vulnerability of charitable tax deductions, a single question was asked that brought the group to a (temporary) stand still:

What are your philanthropic priorities – and why did you select them?

The conversation that ensued over the next few hours was some of the most interesting I’ve heard. Listening to fundraising professionals – people who in theory have a deeper understanding of what it takes to realize a mission – talk about what they deem relevant and important when making their charitable contributions affirmed for me just how complex the psychology that drives our industry is.

People spoke about having personal connections to an org, about multi-generational traditions in their family of supporting an org, about feeling inspired by the investment mindset an org was embracing and in some cases, about not thinking at all and instead simply responding to friends who asked.

As I listened to and participated in this conversation, I was struck by how representative we were of the larger society as a whole. Even with our intimate knowledge and experience of what it takes to realize a mission, much of our giving behavior was influenced by things other than our knowledge and experience.

Whether it be a staff meeting or a dinner party, I invite you to ask this same question of people in your life – perhaps you will learn something that will prove insightful to your organization.