Greeting me this morning was a Twitter post from Imagine Canada – forwarding an article from the National Post titled, “Let the Donor Beware“.   Reading through the article, I quickly asked, “is this helpful?”  

Life in the non-profit sector looks a little something like this:  Demand for services is high – perhaps higher than ever.  Funding is cut, and being cut further.  Non-profits know cuts are coming but funders aren’t necessarily telling them when, where, or how. 

In a landscape like this, is it helpful to scare off private donors?

In Canada, charities are overseen by the Canadian Revenue Service & governed by the Income Tax Act.  When an organization’s work is fraudulent they should be stripped of their charitable privileges.  But it’s easier to scapegoat an organization, so we don’t ask whether the system is the problem.

The system is faulty when the sector, the CRA, and the media have the ease to report bad behavior, but have developed little to no good infrastructure to report good behavior.  (Good behavior is more than % of donation that goes to program v. admin.) 

As long as the system’s feedback loop is broken – where the government sees the non-profit sector as a service delivery agency and holds its funding hostage – organizations will have their hands tied, fester low expectations and deliver mediocre results. 

Private donors hold a key roll in innovation –  if they don’t allow themselves to be tied to a donor-beware mentality. 

Rather than simply writing a check, reading the National Post, and fretting away whether you’ll receive a tax receipt – get out there and learn what it will take to resolve the issue.  Learn about the cause, the urgency of solving the issue, the barriers – find your passion.  It’s called catalytic philanthropy.

Private donors, foundations, and corporations have the clout, connections and capacity to make things happen in a way that most non profits do not.  By becoming directly involved and taking personal responsibility for their results, these donors can leverage their personal and professional relationships, initiate public-private partnerships, import projects that have proved successful elsewhere, create new business models, influence government, draw public attention to an issue, coordinate the activities of different non profits, and attract fellow funders from around the globe.

All of these powerful means for social change are left behind when donors confine themselves to simply writing checks. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2009

Instilling fear in donors is not the way to do better work; it is not helpful.  Encouraging donor’s to understand systematic constraints that non-profits face is helpful, encouraging donors to get off the sidelines is helpful.

Be helpful.

Okay, okay, I’m getting off my box.  

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