My passion is philanthropy. I live by my own philosophy of charitable giving and I have dedicated my career to helping others do the same. I talk about philanthropy interchangeably with charity and giving, though I think among these concepts of generosity, philanthropy at face value is the most misunderstood and misused. Funding the arts is a tricky discussion and in service of the point I want to make, revisiting the formal definition of philanthropy will be helpful.
phi·lan·thro·py / noun
the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.
“To promote the welfare of others,” there are no other qualifiers. If that’s your goal, you are a philanthropist. Building a legacy and any other ancillary benefits are wonderful, but promoting the welfare of others needs to be the sincere, prime motivator or else you will never feel fulfilled by your efforts.
This notion is both the rub and the blessing of arts funding today.
No one would argue that the arts are without value. They are fundamental to any culture. The arts celebrate our cultural identities and histories; they uplift us; they give us an outlet to grapple with the most difficult aspects of the human condition; they glorify the human condition; they demand us to be self-critical but also challenge us to forgive ourselves and our fellow man; they build community; they humanize. They are, in short, worthy of our support.
Despite a sizeable uptick in recent years, arts funding outside of some of our nation’s most iconic institutions lags behind other sectors. While understandable, I believe that this is because of continued thinking that is misaligned with the reality of philanthropy and a persistent mentality of poverty that tells us we’re limited in our ability to make a difference.
In the spirit of art, it’s necessary to examine the main criticism of giving to the arts: it is elitist; it is the rich and privileged funding their own hifalutin entertainment. I’ll be the first to agree that there is an element of this in arts funding. The same major institutions are endowed deeper and deeper, year over year, while the wealthy compete for naming rights of this wing or that theatre.
Chasing prestige or acclaim among your own in-group is never how I would advise my clients to build their legacy. That simply should not be your priority. It’s a nice perk, but if that is your motivation, then are you truly committed to promoting the welfare of others?
My financial advice as it concerns legacy and charity comes from a place of improving society and good stewardship; of creating and leaving behind a better world. Sure, it would be nice to have your name on something in perpetuity, but unless you’re remembered for the right reasons, that plaque outside the theatre is just a bizarrely placed gravestone of sorts.
It’s because of this perceived elitism and behaviors like this that another misconception keeps well-meaning philanthropists away from the arts. When I sit down with my clients to discuss the possibility of philanthropy in their financial plan, most of them are intrigued, but their hesitation is being able to see the difference their gift is making and how their money is being used. They want something that they can identify and take solace in knowing that they are building the kind of legacy they want and having the impact they hoped. This is also something I advise, at least when getting started with charitable giving.
Feedback loops and reciprocal rewards systems makes people want to do more—to give more of their time and money, and so charities and nonprofit groups do better when they can show results. It’s best for all when impact can be measured. Traditionally funding the arts makes this seemingly simple task challenging.
Whether you’re hoping to get involved with philanthropy in the arts and culture space, or an arts nonprofit seeking impactful donors for long-term funding, my expertise can help get you started in the right direction. I can connect the ideal donor with the perfect organization. Donors and organizations alike can learn a lot from my free assessments. For donors: Make Your Legacy Count. For charities and nonprofits: Attracting the Right Donors?