Nothing Can or Should Substitute for Philanthropy

And I end this introductory chapter with a battle cry for nonprofit, nongovernmental charitable organizations: Nothing substitutes for donors.

I’m worried by what I see as an excessive focus on generating revenue by nonprofits. There’s a new old chant in town: “Let’s start a business where customers buy stuff and then we won’t have to rely so heavily on donations!” Articles proclaim that nonprofits are “finally wising up.”

It sounds like revenue is better than charitable contributions. Hey, we need both. Lots of both, revenue and charitable gifts. But increasingly, it seems that the reliance on donations is seen as somewhat demeaning. Even the term nonprofit suggests—in our capitalistic, profit-driven society—that to be nonprofit is less than. (As an aside: Notice the trend of hiring for-profit people to lead nonprofits. This worries me. See the section entitled “A Digression” in Chapter 4.) In summary, the revenue/charitable gifts equation seems to be: Revenue is better than charitable gifts. Customers produce revenue so customers are better, better than donors.

Generating Both Revenue and Charitable Gifts

Let’s step back a moment. Since time began, many nonprofits have generated both revenue and charitable gifts. So the new news is pretty old—just more egregious with moneymaking entrepreneurs sneering about how to start business ventures. Theaters and symphonies produce revenue by selling tickets and refreshments. Museums generate ...

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