Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Strategic Philanthropy, or the Art of Saying No

I was asked to participate in writing a vision statement for an organization that is involved in strategic philanthropy.  I didn't know what strategic philanthropy was at the time, although I nodded wisely, said "mm-hmm" a lot, and otherwise kept my mouth shut.

I learned that strategic philanthropy is a management practice that aims to support an organization's social responsibilty, effectively focusing the organization's resources to maximize the effects of its giving program.

This is exactly what we artists should be doing individually!

Instead, this is what happens: Aunt Jenny works for a grassroots organization.  You admire the work of the organization.  Aunt Jenny asks if you could donate a piece of your art for their fundraiser.  You say yes.  You work and work and work.  Maybe the work sells, maybe it doesn't.  Then your college roommate tells you about another great cause and you agree to supply a piece for that group.  This repeats until you are exhausted and cranky and possibly broke from all your good intentions and you finally scream "Noooo!"

All this strategic philanthropy reading clarified a simple thought: step back and consider which causes you are truly passionate about.  Not the ones people you feel passionately about are involved in, but things that you feel strongly about.  Then look up some information about the groups involved in that issue and weed out the ones that don't appeal to you.  Contact some of the remaining organizations about a partnership. Perhaps you offer a piece for their headquarters, or a portion of proceeds from a specific event.  Maybe they aren't interested.  Maybe they have been waiting for someone like you all along.  Everybody wins.

Above all, stay focused.  You have your cause, you have your art, and you have 24 hours in your day.  Don't be swayed by the puppy-dog eyes for your friend's niece's elementary school.  Puppy-dog eyes, in my experience, cannot create a single extra second.

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