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A Shift from Fundraising to Philanthropy

Posted: 8/26/2021

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By Tarsha Whitaker Calloway

I've been engaging donors to support important mission work, special projects and the next big gala for a few years now, and I have noticed a new use of the word "philanthropy" in place of "fundraising." It is not a bad approach but it has the potential to shift many attitudes for varied reasons.

Some will distinguish the more all-encompassing view of philanthropy as if it is a higher calling to our better human nature. It evokes happy feelings about helping people and supporting the greater good whereas the word "fundraising" seems to engender an attitude of being in sales and getting the deal done — period.

Organizations in the 21st century are taking the broader view. They want to make the largest impact, create true social change and solve huge problems. Does that mean that, as fundraisers, we should abandon the idea of fundraising as what we do and just call it "philanthropy" in order to make the ask feel more personal and engaging? The reality is, at the end of the day, there is a need to deeply engage active supporters who will take action — and give money. That fact remains the same.

But we'll use of the term "fundraising" versus "philanthropy" lower the standard of the impact and the important work of the profession? I think not. The big question is whether or not the industry sees a need for this shift in order to validate the important work of raising funds to impact social and societal change. As fundraisers, our role is three-fold:

  1. To increase social capital and promote civic engagement.
  2. To nurture relationships in order to foster giving.
  3. To increase and diversify the generosity of donors for your organization and for the greater good.

This does not sound like a salesperson ready to close the deal, but a committed individual doing his or her job: fundraising.

Perhaps having a deeper understanding of meaning is a better aim. As we explore the difference between fundraising and philanthropy, I do not see the need to shift as a means to add value to the important function of what we do; however, as we examine the perspective, it is important to clarify both of the terms separately.

"Philanthropic" comes from the root, "philanthropy." Philanthropy can be described as charity, helping someone, giving to someone or a cause, or doing good for the community. Philanthropy is not simply helping someone you know; philanthropy is also helping someone you may not know. It is always about the greater good. To be philanthropic, you must give of yourself without requiring something in return whereas fundraising, also referred to as fund raising, means collecting money for a specific reason. Fundraisers collect money for many different causes.
That is fundamentally what we do.

As fundraisers, I think we have done a great job at promoting a broad understanding that all giving is philanthropic in nature and, through that, we are able to promote giving as an honorable endeavor. I challenge our profession to recognize that fundraising is a peripheral action, it is one of the methodologies used to engage donors in the act of philanthropy.

I conclude that, perhaps, we should focus more on philanthropy as the end result and fundraising as the catalyst to get us there. Of course, I think we can all agree that philanthropy is a warmer word that calms that "fear of fundraising," but, for every action, there is an equal and, optimistically, a greater philanthropic reaction. Given that reality, we can all agree it is OK to embrace the notice that we are fundraisers.

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