The Essence of Philanthropy: A Vision That Endures

I believe:

Fundraising and philanthropy are not interchangeable terms, that the former is dependent on the latter; if fundraising assumes that philanthropy exists to serve it, it gnaws at the generous hand that has fed it so well for so long;

Philanthropy is not “there for asking” nor can it be mobilized for things that have been, or are already being done; it awaits those with the vision and resolve to make a difference where a difference most needs to be made;

The best fundraisers see themselves as agents of philanthropy; they eschew fundraising strategies or tactics that tear at the hope, trust and goodwill that comprise the philanthropic spirit.

The best fundraisers strive to align the aims and interests of their organizations with the passions, principles and purposes of philanthropists; they know that enduring compacts are based on mutual moral obligations;

True philanthropic volunteer leaders do more than oversee the business of an organization; they live the mission through advocacy and action;

True philanthropists donate, in order, their time, talent and treasure; they are thoroughly of and for the causes they support;

True philanthropists subordinate their ego to a cause by working collaboratively and quietly through institutions; they target their investment to service improvements rather than creating new organizations in their own name that replicate existing services;

True philanthropy must be manifest in the mission of an organization, and in the daily dedication of those that lead and represent it; they must not ask donors just to give to their organization, but show them how they can give through it to create a better world; and

The assiduous application of these tenets ennoble and enliven philanthropy-seeking organizations, attract and retain the best staff, and inspire and sustain the support of the most remarkable philanthropists; that “true philanthropy,” when practiced by all, produces the most significant and lasting institutional and societal advances.

I wrote this more than 12 years ago. I still believe and try to advance this vision each day. I am grateful for so many kindred spirits who do the same.


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 

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