Changing the charitable model: Being disruptive can be a good thing—at least in philanthropic circles

a woman looking at a charitable model poster
One of the ways to disrupt philanthropy is to "imagine, create and innovate" new charitable models.
Michael Faye
Michael Faye of GiveDirectory believes in pushing the status quo.

Traditionally, the act of philanthropic giving has been categorized as charity done by the wealthy or someone from a well-established organization.

You have to be older. You have to be financially secure. You have to be important.

Kate Khaled, engagement and development manager of Charities Review Council in St. Paul, is striving to change this stereotype through “disruptive philanthropy.”

By playing the role of big brother, Charities Review Council upholds and maintains standards for charities in the Twin Cities. At its annual forum earlier this fall at the University of St. Thomas, the Council introduced disruptive philanthropy as “a transformative event or moment, an act of giving and relationship building that is a departure from the status quo.”

It’s a concept that could ring true for young people while influencing their investment in the future of philanthropy.

“It may not be something comfortable or something sanctioned or something that supports institutions, but it’s a necessary shift that needs to take place in order to improve the system of philanthropy,” Khaled said.

“Philanthropy itself is an act of giving. Putting those two together is a catalytic event or collaboration that shifts the way people do giving.”

With roughly 330 guests from the Twin Cities philanthropic community in attendance—among them The Bush Foundation, Wells Fargo, Cargill, Medica and nonprofits like Lifetrack Resources, Springboard for the Arts and Metro Meals on Wheels—creative approaches to building relationships marked the all-day event. Michael Faye’s keynote address also helped unravel the status quo of philanthropy and push the audience to actively think about how—and what—they give.

Faye, co-founder and chair of GiveDirectly, focuses on exactly what his organizational title suggests—giving money directly to those in need and not to middleman organizations. Breaking down those social norms and expectations should be appealing to young donors, said Nausheena Hussain, fund development and marketing director at CAIR (Council of American-Islamic Relations) Minnesota.

“I think the younger generation is really great at putting in the time volunteering and showing up at events, coordinating events,” Hussain said. “So their giving already goes beyond (looking at philanthropy) from a monetary perspective, but also from a service perspective.”

Jeremy Wang, board chair of the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, agreed with Hussain’s sentiment. He also believes that disruptive philanthropy means more engagement, not just dollars.

“Go out and find a nonprofit that does work that you believe in. And learn a lot about it,” Wang said.

“I think there’s more to giving and engaging in philanthropy than just signing a check or handing over your credit card number. It’s about really understanding an organization and their mission and what they’re trying to do. And exploring nonprofit careers. Young people, especially, need to think about that.”

Hussain recommended that young people get involved where they’re comfortable. One obvious choice: Social media.

“Where would you want to donate to? … Raise awareness of these causes,” Hussain said. “Not just donating, but helping (by) tweeting it out. Talk about where you’ve been on your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“I mean, they’re (youth) so big on social media. Let things go viral. Let missions and causes go viral. I think that’s where the younger generation can definitely help.”

The concept of disruptive philanthropy could be part of a culture change that’s already in motion. Movements like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Love Your Melon, St. Jude Up ‘til Dawn and YouTube videos showing random acts of kindness toward the homeless are broadening the idea of who can “give” to their community.

Heather Lund, development manager at Bridging, recalled working on a Build It Bash project where kids decorated forts as a fundraiser. It was “active, enjoyable and fun,” Lund said, and helped young people learn more about the organization.

That’s the first step, Lund said. The next move is for the philanthropic community to push for more youth representation on boards and in advisory positions, to facilitate more diversity in organizations, and to reward “disruptive” models that young people are already skilled at.

“Kids communicate with each other with ease as opposed to when I was young. You know, if you lost track of somebody, you had to really make an effort,” Lund said.

“So they can do more. They’re more powerful than we were. They can really get together as a group and support a cause or do something.”

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