I have recently finished a thought-provoking book on philanthropy. Jimmy LaRose wrote this book to encapsulate the advice he has been giving his clients for a number of years. It is advice that does not go down easy and it is advice that does not always make him popular in the non-profit industry. LaRose, who is based in Lexington, S.C., titled the book >RE-IMAGINING PHILANTHROPY. His is a challenging message that I have to believe has received a good bit of blow back in much of the non-profit world.
Why the blow back? Well, LaRose is telling non-profits they need to do a better job of serving their primary clients while at the same time telling them the primary client is not the person receiving the non-profit’s services but the person and the people supplying the funds to sustain the non-profit’s work.
Throughout his book and the videos and other materials in which he shares his ideas, which are bed rocked in the statement, Money is more important than mission (or Ministry). (p 30)
With his unblinking focus on money, which he terms the oxygen of the non-profit system, he then concludes that donors are more important than causes or people. (p 33)
And as he continues to build his argument in that first chapter of his book, his next major position is that the customers, clients or non-profits are not those who are served but those whose money pays for the services. His in-your-face statement in positive terms is: Successful nonprofits understand that donors are the object of their mission and must be served before people in need. (p34)
Reading this as the executive director of a grant making organization (a donor organization) it immediately struck me that LaRose was choosing a very provocative frame around which to discuss how philanthropy might work. As a donor organization we work with non-profits to help them achieve amazing goals and succeed in making a positive difference in the life of people and the structure of community. I am not sure we have ever thought of ourselves as the customers of the non-profit.
As I process the information from this book, I am still not sure on which side I come down but I can say it provokes thought and new ideas for strategy and tactics in both fund raising and organization management.
In this blog I am not going to try to provide all the arguments or assess the arguments. In this communication my goal is to make you aware the argument is out there. And to show you a little about the direction the argument takes here is an example LaRose gives of a typical mission statement: Harvest Town Food Bank exists to provide our community’s hurting, hungry, and homeless the clothing, food, and nutritional care they so desperately need. (p 35) Now, here is that mission rewritten with a new audience as focus: Harvest Town Food Bank provides donors, volunteers, and advocated the organization they require to serve our community’s hurting, hungry and homeless.
Once you begin to see what re-imagining philanthropy means in terms of mission it begins to make more sense and lead onto multiple paths of discussion if not understanding that may need to be part of building stronger, more sustainable non-profit organizations.
I have an extra book and am willing to share with anyone who would like to read it. And, you can find much of the Jimmy LaRose message in video on his website, www.JimmyLaRose.com.