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Think Tank Explores Changing Philanthropic Communities

NOTRE DAME, IND. (AFP eWire) - Fundraising leaders and scholars gathered at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind., in June 2002 to discuss a variety of topics related to clarifying the responsibilities and roles of fundraising professionals in diverse cultural and giving environments. The think tank entitled, 'The Caring Heart: Exploring Philanthropy at a Crossroads,' included presentations by 12 subject matter experts and a lively discussion among 35 invited guests.

Chaired by AFP Research Council member, Robert Fogal, Ph.D., ACFRE, the think tank discussed major themes for the philanthropic sector. They raised questions like: How can research be further developed on the impact of giving in local communities, especially with respect to our understanding of cultural contexts and diversity? What does, or should, the professional fundraising community look like in its make-up, its standards, and its practices?

'One of the main objectives of these think tanks is to increase interaction between academic researchers and practitioners,' said Fogal. 'Through collaboration and discussion, we are hoping to create an even stronger philanthropic tradition.'

This year's event involved a number of organizations in the planning and financial support of the meeting, including Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Ind.; the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE); the Council on Foundations; United Way of America; and the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy.

Fundraising leaders
and scholars gathered
at Saint Mary's College
in Notre Dame, Ind.
Exploring the differences

As one of the presenters explained, different cultures practice philanthropy in different ways. In some communities, philanthropy is practiced in ways that are not easily measured, such as giving to extended family members, or sending money to one's country of origin to provide for developing infrastructure. The traditional giving pyramid and traditional ways of measuring giving can often minimize the importance of smaller and informal gifts.

'Part of being a successful fundraising professional is getting to know these experiences in people's lives,' added Fogal. 'This involves knowing donors on more than a superficial level. We must connect with donors in ways that respect their culture and honor their deepest intentions.'

Participants also explored issues of trust in fundraising. Establishing a relationship of trust takes a long time and may involve a stage where people can safely express anger over past hurts and injustices. In some cases, a trusted intermediary may help in developing relationships with individuals from different backgrounds.

But raising funds was not the only topic of conversation. Another key component of the discussion was how to enable organizations representing a particular culture or interest group to become stronger and more independent rather than to try to raise funds from individuals in that group for our own respective organizations.

Spreading the word

On the final day, participants were asked to brainstorm on two questions: As leaders in philanthropy, what should our personal responses be to the learnings of the think tank? How should AFP and other co-sponsoring organizations incorporate the learnings of the think tank into the education and preparation of professional fundraisers?

A number of suggestions were posted, and the group prioritized the responses they thought would have the most impact for the profession. The participants all agreed to integrate their new knowledge into practice and to write about their experiences for a chapter newsletter or for a professional publication. The group also decided to develop a cadre of circuit riders and speakers to facilitate experiences like the think tank for other fundraising professionals.

The think tank planning group is now pursuing various dissemination initiatives, which include publishing the papers and the final summary statement in an issue of New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, developing a curriculum for fundraising practitioners based on topics and materials from the think tank, and integrating the results and recommendations with the work of the Practice Analysis Task Force.

Using research to stimulate dialogue

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Research Council, in collaboration with several other philanthropy-related organizations, periodically conducts think tanks on fundraising research. The purpose of these special gatherings is to encourage a constructive dialogue between scholars and practitioners on philanthropy and fundraising.

This year's think tank follows two previous events in 1995 and 1999. The 1995 Think Tank, the proceedings of which are documented in Critical Issues in Fund Raising (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), helped to extend and refine the research agenda for the fundraising profession, while at the same time modeling the crucial importance of practitioner/research interaction for the fundraising community.

The proceedings of the 1999 think tank are documented in 'Serving the Public Trust: Insights into Fundraising Research and Practice,' Volumes I & II, published as two issues of New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000). The 1999 event explored a complex set of issues related to how institutions, individual citizens, and the government perceive the current practice of philanthropy and the role of the fundraising professional, and the policy implications of those perceptions.

'This research helps to add to the body of knowledge that exists about the fundraising field, which is an integral part of every flourishing profession,' said Cathy Williams, Ph.D., CAE, AFP's senior director for education and research.

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