Philanthropy Basics

Jim Hackney thumb

By Jim Hackney,
Managing Partner


As fundraising consultants, we are energized when our work with one organization offers insight into our work with other organizations. As I write this, I am days away from traveling to Greece where I will be an Arts Envoy for the U.S. State Department. I am honored to be a keynote speaker in a workshop designed for the Greek museum professional community. With the Greek economy in such turmoil, the Government-supported museums and cultural sites are not receiving the level of public funding they would historically. This workshop is meant to invigorate those organizations and show them how to raise private donations-something they are not accustomed to doing.

Preparing for two different presentations, and nearly a week of on-site consulting with several Greek organizations has forced me to go back to the very basics of how to start a philanthropic program. Going back to the basics literally takes us back to Greece where the tenants of Western Civilization were born. And the basic tenant of philanthropy is private support. However, there is not a tremendous amount of private support for Greece’s museums. So, we start at the beginning. How do you ask someone for a gift? What compels someone to make his or her first charitable donation?

Looking back at how the United States developed this system of private support brings me to my initial declaration that working with one organization can often offer great insight when working with another. While working with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, I was reminded once again how we are given the right to join together and do something for the public good. This comes from the U.S. Bill of Rights where we are able to “freely associate” with others.  So, we join together, pool our funds and start a museum, for example. This edict should easily be incorporated into the Greek system as well.

As you can see from the chart below, in 1986, governments-local, state and Federal-levels-supported 40 percent of all the operational budgets for museums throughout the United States. By 2008, this source of funds dropped to 24 percent. The difference has been made up by private gifts. How did we do it? The answer can be seen in the most recent Giving USA data, which shows that 73 percent of all charitable support is given by individuals. Ask yourself, What are you doing to make sure you are keeping a diversified donor base and keep your museum’s private support growing…because today, this is a worldwide necessity for all our charitable organizations.

Museum income trends 2008

We have managed, some years better than others, to support our cultural organizations with private support, even as government support has dramatically decreased. I am optimistic that our lessons can be translated into Greek lessons on private philanthropy, much like early Greek thought has helped shape our civilization.

The word philanthropy comes from the Greek word philanthrōpos ; meaning humane, benevolent. I look forward to learning from the Greeks, where philanthrōpos was first recognized, and am hopeful that sharing basic fundraising lessons with our colleagues there will help their organizations thrive and continue to protect and display the treasures that the Greek people have created throughout time.

After all, it is our history too!