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Opinion/Philanthropy Journal – Charity must overcome vanity

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By Todd Cohen

Philanthropy is not fair, and charities need to learn to live with its skewed nature.

While many funders back charities because they share goals and values, others are fueled by vanity and arrogance, and far removed from the trenches in which charities work.

Individual donors and foundation staff and board members can confuse philanthropic wealth with wisdom, or get hooked on the stroking they get from charities that bow and scrape for support.

Who you know can play a big role in picking which charities get funded, and some funders use the wealth they control to buy their way into new markets and power circles.

Some funders position and view themselves as deep thinkers and open-minded do-gooders, yet they can be closed-minded and shameless in their practice of philanthropy, elevating their egos and pet causes over the actual needs of the charities and communities they profess to serve.

They also can fall prey to the seductive lure of trendy consultants and strategic gurus.

Rather than wringing their hands over what is wrong with philanthropy, charities must adapt to the marketplace.

Much of philanthropy is rooted in wealth built by companies that crushed workers and competitors, or peddled harmful goods like tobacco.

However shameful the source of that wealth, or whatever the motivation for its philanthropic use, charities face the job of tackling poverty, disease, violence and other social ills while struggling to make ends meet.

If they work smart, heed the markets they serve and hook up with backers and partners that care about their cause, charities can deliver solid services that help pay for themselves.

And if they really are smart, and brave, charities can help funders see that philanthropy works best when it serves the market, not the philanthropist.

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