Despite the daily barrage of head-spinning news coming out of Washington, let’s not lose sight of a few facts back here in Philadelphia:

  1. Many Philadelphians are angry about federal policies that hurt us, and are motivated to respond.
  2. We live in a wealthy region with a long history of people coming together to solve problems.
  3. We have effective nonprofits with intellectual and human capital in need of financial capital.

How do we move from problem to motivation to action? It may be a long distance run, but there is a path. Forget for a moment supply and demand; let’s demand a supply. For starters, recent research has established that people are ready to donate more money to causes they care about.

People are translating concerns about the country’s future into increased charitable giving.  

National research regarding the impact of previous presidential elections on philanthropic giving revealed minor and short-term fluctuations. The 2016 election, however, revealed marked changes that have persisted months after the election. The research evaluating the charitable giving plans of 1,000 Clinton and Trump voters following the inauguration revealed noteworthy insights. We’ve heard some of this before, but it’s worth considering what it means for the region’s nonprofit sector.

Giving Increase Graphic (cropped)

In short, the data reveals:

Capitalizing on this expanded motivation requires addressing both the demand and the supply sides of the equation.

Enhance demand: Nonprofits need to step up their asks. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.  At Fairmount Ventures, we invest a lot of time crafting strategies that consider the strengths and needs of each nonprofit. Call us if you want specific advice, but here are some elements to consider:

  1. Examine your organizational culture regarding investing in infrastructure and staff that support development and communications. In the for-profit sector, it is a given that an organization needs to invest money to generate money. In the nonprofit sector, it is often anathema to the culture. Take a look at yours.
  2. Be immediately responsive to inquiries from current and prospective donors. As obvious as this sounds, we are astounded by the number of nonprofits that tell us that they are too busy to respond to donors’ requests to help. Prioritize and figure out how to engage people that want to help you.
  3. Cut through the clutter. Understand if your current and, more importantly, future donor base is reading snail mail, email, Twitter, Instagram, et al., and start communicating with them where they live. Recall the statistics cited above: 18 to 34-year-olds plan to start being philanthropic, and people giving under $100 plan to double their giving. Catch this wave.
  4. Take a hard look at your board. Your board may have been the perfect mix of people for 1998 or 2008, but is it the right group of people for the future? You upgrade your infrastructure, your staff and your programs; when is the last time you evaluated how to maximize your board’s strategic value?
  5. If it’s worth having, it’s worth asking for. Words of wisdom from an old cabby driving us to the Milwaukee airport years ago. Get over any inhibition of asking for money: people want to support good causes that are doing things they cannot do themselves. Ask yourself if your own feelings of discomfort are more important than your organization’s mission and the people you serve.

Increase supply: Enlarge the proverbial pie.

Our April edition of reSources discussed the fact that the Philadelphia region is in the bottom 20% (41st out of 50 major cities) in philanthropic giving as a proportion of family adjusted gross income. Our suggestion that we organize the region to change this generated a significant number of “count me in” responses. Fairmount Ventures followed up with discussions with a few dozen nonprofit executives and leaders of local philanthropic institutions and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Along with expressions of interest to participate, we also heard how to tweak the approach to be more effective and avoid potential conflicts. We are ready to start to take action on this.

Let’s steal a page from the Paris Climate Agreement, i.e., rely on individual volunteer actions to achieve a collective good. Let’s:

This needs to be a collective activity that goes beyond any one of our organizations. We’d love to hear from others regarding your ideas and interest in participating.

Get to Know Fairmount Ventures: Edwin Harvey, Associate

By Aimée Miller  |  May 16th, 2017

Edwin Harvey, Associate, uses his skills in research and analysis to help Fairmount’s clients realize their missions and grow their capacities. Edwin has a B.A. from the George Washington University, a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley.Edwin Harvey

FV: Before you joined Fairmount, you were an independent consultant in organization development and project management. What aspects of that role are you now applying to your position at Fairmount?

EH: My previous role taught me that every organization boils down to a group of individual people. Development is thus a matter of enabling and encouraging the behaviors that will drive an organization’s success. Consultants therefore need to be empathetic, attending as much to motivations, habits and culture as we do to business goals and outcomes. Before our team at Fairmount makes a recommendation, we consider it from our client’s perspective and then tailor it accordingly, addressing any challenges that may make that recommendation difficult to enact.

FV: What does a typical day look like for you?

EH: I spend most of each day listening carefully to clients and studying their communities and business contexts. I also work with colleagues to frame my findings as solutions to the specific problems that my clients face. I spend the rest of my time communicating those solutions in emails, phone calls, presentations, and the like. Of course, at some point, I’ll get hungry and break to eat, often taking a sandwich on a walk around downtown.

FV: In addition to writing your dissertation on the work of painter Andrew Wyeth, you’ve taught art history at a couple of universities. In a city like Philadelphia, what do you believe having sufficient access to the arts provides to the community?

EH: The arts can broaden people’s perspectives and spark intercultural dialogue and creative thought. I would therefore like everyone to have as much access as they would like. And maybe they already do: Wyeth once said that “art, to me, is seeing.” I’ve always liked this definition because it implies that the practice of art is open to anyone who is willing to observe the world and express what they find. Wyeth’s definition also has the benefit of being applicable across Philadelphia’s great diversity of layered and overlapping communities, each of which may observe and express things that others overlook.

FV: What do you enjoy most about your work?

EH: My work at Fairmount connects me with professionals from diverse industries and sectors – staff members from a range of Philadelphia-area nonprofits, and board members and donors from just about everywhere else. I love to learn about how each person communicates, what they value, and what insights they have to share.

FV: What are some of your favorite things about the city?

EH: I enjoy the City’s green public spaces in general, particularly the cherry blossoms. As a kid, I played along the River Drives, the Parkway and in many small neighborhood parks, and I still value them highly today. My other longtime favorites include fresh water ice and soft pretzels, but that hardly makes me unique! Less well-known, but equally remarkable to me, is the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of arms and armor. In that one collection, and even in some of its individual objects, viewers can glimpse every facet of humanity – from horrors of violence and death to achievements of art, culture, and industry.

Raising Philadelphia’s Philanthropy

By Don Kligerman  |  April 19th, 2017

The Opportunity? An Additional $323 Million to Share

Philadelphia has done a good job of organizing people in response to the immediate challenges to federal policies. People from all walks of life have joined together to say “no” to measures that reduce opportunities for people and communities. But resistance is not enough; it is equally critical to succeed in creating better futures for people and places in order to demonstrate that equitable public policies and practices generate results. What if we provide avenues for concerned people to be able to say “yes” to positive change by also organizing money?


When it comes to philanthropic giving, we have a lot of room for improvement that would not be a heavy lift for any individual, but which can make a significant difference if we act collectively. Sad fact: the Philadelphia region ranks in the bottom 20% (41 out of 50) in per household philanthropic giving among America’s largest metropolitan areas[1]. Salt Lake City is number one — maybe there is lots of tithing happening there — but that does not explain Memphis at number two or Birmingham at number three. Even Baltimore is considerably more generous than Philadelphia. New Orleans ranks right in the middle, with average annual giving of $3,391/household (2.8% of adjusted gross income or AGI). The typical Philadelphia region household donates $2,604 annually (2.5% AGI).

Top Giving FINAL

So here is a modest proposal: What if we simply increase our giving rate to the national average? There would be a net increase of $323 million per year in philanthropic giving to area nonprofits for a total of $4.4 billion (that’s billion, with a b). On a per day basis, this would cost the average household just $0.56 more than what they already contribute for a total of $7.70/day.

If this sounds like a lot, consider that Philadelphia’s low-income families already donate 6.9% of their AGI each year—far more than the average high-income families at 2.5%.

Top Giving FINAL (1)

So how do we start a movement to greater philanthropic engagement? Experience in other efforts across the country and Philadelphia point to the fact that we can plan, organize, and make large-scale change in persistent behaviors. Nationally, there has been great success in getting people to wear seatbelts, put kids in car seats, and reduce smoking. Locally, we’ve recently organized the Read by 4! campaign aimed at significantly increasing the number of students entering the 4th grade at reading level; Shared Prosperity, a coordinated effort to help lift citizens and communities out of poverty and increase opportunities for low-income people; and Shared Safety, a collective response to relational violence. These and other efforts began with a slightly audacious vision, people across sectors around a table, and a willingness to work together to create and implement a unified plan.

We’re thinking of this as collective impact philanthropy. Over perhaps the next three years, the region’s nonprofit and philanthropic leaders can work together to set a shared goal, develop and implement an action plan, and create a way to track success such that the region’s rate of household philanthropic giving would reach the national average. People would give directly to organizations of their choosing; the point is to create a greater and sustained culture of philanthropy throughout the Philadelphia region.

We think it’s worth the effort to raise an additional $323,000,000/year for good causes.

Exactly how would this happen?  We have ideas based upon past successes, but first want to learn if others think this is a good idea. What do you think?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can work together to increase Philadelphia’s philanthropic giving — you can reach me at

([1] IRS data of 2015 tax returns.)