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The new Center for Civil Society will help donors support their communities, without becoming overwhelmed by options or paralyzed by “impact.”

High stakes beget high stress, and high stress begets confusion and bad decision-making.

We see this all over but consider for a moment how this applies to charitable giving.

Rightly or wrongly, a sense of apocalyptic urgency runs rampant in our political discourse today. Many are convinced that we stand one generation away from extinction, or that totalitarian fascism is at our doorstep, or that our political adversaries would gleefully mutilate our corpses in the streets.

Now more than ever, we are told, you need to take action. You NEED to get this right. Our future depends on it.

Well, that kind of environment takes a toll on donors. The urgency increases the stakes and that creates worry, stress, confusion. They wonder whether they’re truly making a difference or where “best” they can make a difference.

On top of it all, we’re facing the “great wealth transfer” right now: enormous resources facing enormous need. It can feel paralyzing. How can anyone decide how to give their money when everyone is yelling “Fire!”?

Donor burnout worries Jack Fowler greatly. The former publisher of National Review, Mr. Fowler has spent over four decades working in the conservative movement and has served on numerous boards including the American Mental Health Foundation, The Human Life Foundation, The Frontier Center, and Gen Justice.

He is particularly worried, he tells me, about those who have given generously and for years to causes promising change, only to witness the world apparently growing worse.

“There’s an inescapable question for many a philanthropist: Just what good did my contributions do? So it’s crucially important to help donors honestly assess where they’ve been, where they are, and where their charity might remain or be redirected.”

It’s with this in mind that Mr. Fowler has left National Review to advise and support individual donors and charitable foundations as Senior Philanthropy Consultant with American Philanthropic, and as the Director of the newly formed Center for Civil Society.

To Mr. Fowler’s eye, the task of the prudent philanthropist is more difficult today than ever before, even as information and giving options multiply.

We look forward to introducing you to Mr. Fowler’s work in the coming months. Keep your eyes peeled for a series of articles he’ll be penning soon to help donors in their giving. He’ll also be hosting webinars on topics such as protecting donor intent and giving within higher education.

Amid all the catastrophizing and fire-shouting, Mr. Fowler urges donors to take heart, and keep calm. Don’t get caught up in the allure of the philanthropy-as-venture-capital mindset. Don’t forget the local, or the importance of good governance.

“Here’s the simple reality,” he says. “Donors and foundations need a clear strategic plan that is realistic, that is defensible and inspiring, and that readily answers the most important questions: Why are we doing this? and Where are we heading?

The Center for Civil Society provides research, trainings, and other resources that offer practical advice, ideas, and tools to help civil society leaders achieve their missions. The Center will host its first in-person conference for donors in Scottsdale, Arizona on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

1 thought on “Good news for donors who only get bad news”

  1. richard coyle says:

    The burden is not on donors. Their hearts and minds are clear. The problem today is the lack of a ROI metric. When recipients cannot present audited return-on-investment proof that heartfelt donations made a difference–exactly the purpose that organizations exists in the first instance–donors are right to be wary, to hesitate and to challenge target recipients to initiate the trust relationship by submitting requests-for-proposals.

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