Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Teamwork fits charities’ needs

By Todd Cohen

Philanthropy is not fair.

That sounds harsh, but charity can be more productive if it deals with the fact that people who control wealth can do what they like with it, and that charities are owed nothing.

The charitable world is no different from the for-profit world: It is a jungle in which the fit survive and the weak fail.

Instead of bemoaning the gap between philanthropic supply and demand, charities need to work harder to equip themselves to thrive in a cut-throat marketplace fueled by whim and favoritism, not merit or need.

To thrive, charities need to focus their mission, create realistic and entrepreneurial business plans, build hands-on boards and invest in the tools and training their staffs need to do their jobs.

They also need to create partnerships in which all the partners truly share both turf and risk – a tough job that requires cutting through the fog in which philanthropy likes to wrap itself.

Power rooted in wealth does not endow donors or funders with wisdom or insight into charity or the needs it tries to address.

Yet charities kneel before philanthropic power and keep from saying what philanthropy needs to hear for fear of losing the support they need.

This cult of philanthropy is a self-fulfilling disgrace. Donors and funders expect to be treated as mighty sages, and charities are all too willing to grovel.

The losers are our communities.

Even more shameful is the failure of many donors and funders to invest the time and effort needed to study the internal challenges that charities face.

Instead, they direct their attention and dollars to pet causes, making it tough for charities to raise the money they need simply to meet the payroll and pay the rent.

If they truly care about making a difference, donors and funders need to involve themselves in the work of the causes they care about – and find ways to help charities identify the critical organizational issues they must address to operate effectively and efficiently.

And charities need to move beyond despairing what they do not have and instead begin building on what they do have.

That will require speaking truth to the power that is philanthropy.

To do that, charities need a common-sense roadmap that will make clear – to themselves and to funders — precisely what they hope to accomplish, the resources they enjoy and those they need, and how they can work productively in partnership with funders.

Taking on the crushing social challenges we face requires that philanthropy and charities be brutally honest with themselves and with one another, and willing to take on and share the risks and burdens needed to truly work as partners.

Working together is hard work – a lot harder than all the loose talk about collaboration makes it sound.

Embracing that hard work is precisely what charities need to do to equip themselves to take on the tough job of healing and repairing our communities.

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