Back in the 1990s, I served on a committee that determined what programs my church supported and what levels of funding we gave annually. The church funded programs like an ESL class for immigrants, a local social service agency and its community center, a weekly newspaper run by the homeless community, a drop in center for those living on the street, a food bank, as well as several other programs.
During my tenure on that committee, a member of the congregation offered a gift of $500,000 to buy the church a new organ if the rest of the congregation matched the gift. The elders of the church accepted the challenge and began a capital campaign to raise the money. I was not very supportive of the effort because I believed the money would better serve those in need, and I was quite vocal in my opinion. After a couple years, the money was raised and the organ was installed, and I must admit that the music that instrument created greatly increased the enjoyment of the services I attended.
In August, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by bio-ethicist Peter Singer which basically stated that people should give their money to health oriented causes rather than cultural causes like art museums, symphonies, or operas. In his opinion, cultural enrichment should take a backseat to saving the sight of those in developing countries. Singer’s belief is that more good is being done by saving lives than advancing culture.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece by Terry Teachout calling Bill Gates to task for putting his philanthropic weight behind efforts to end diseases in developing countries and not supporting more cultural causes. In the article, Mr. Teachout questions Gates’s priorities and casts aspersions at Singer due to his past writings.
What I think is a shame is that both authors make valid points supporting their opinions, but they do not seem to realize that donors support issues which they are passionate about, and that each donor has the right to their own passions. There is no right or wrong absolute when it comes to supporting a cause. Some donors care about health issues like disease prevention and eradication, some care about education and advancing knowledge, some care about animal welfare and nature, and some care about cultural interests like art, drama, literature, and music. Donors have the right to support what they care about the most. Some choose to support local organizations and others support global efforts. There is no right or wrong cause.
I am disappointed by both of these writers. Neither seems to see the value of causes other than their own. It reminds me of the hyper partisanship we see dividing our national government at this time. I realize that there is a great deal of competition for funding for our organizations and causes, but it does not serve the nonprofit sector to attack other causes or attempting to publicly shame donors for the causes they support.
My advice is to make a strong case of what your cause does to make the community and world a better place, instead of attacking another cause or organization. If you make a strong case for your own cause, donors will support you. Attacking another cause and its supporters will not win you any fans.