Author Archives: Mo Lidsky

About Mo Lidsky

co-Author of The Philanthropic Mind

Is philanthropy really altruistic?

hand_heartThat may seem like a ridiculous question. If someone donates money to help other people or causes, clearly he or she is being altruistic. But hold on a minute. What happens if you enjoy or take pride in the support you provide?

In our interviews, more than one of Canada’s top givers questioned whether philanthropy was truly altruistic. Honey Sherman made the point succinctly. “If you feel satisfied about your help with [causes] then you are no longer being totally altruistic.” Or as Aditya Jha put it, “Philanthropy is giving to yourself.”

For those who are uncomfortable with the tension between philanthropy and altruism, Honey provided reassurance when she told us, “It’s okay by the way to do a selfless thing for selfish reasons.”

Seth Godin picks up the point in a recent blog post appropriately titled Narcissistic Altruism. He rightly contends that, “Everyone who does good things does them because it makes them feel good, because the effort and the donation is worth more than it costs.”

It’s interesting that so many of those who give the most in Canada told us about the many ways in which they have benefitted from their philanthropy. Maybe Honey Sherman is right when she says, “there’s no such thing as true altruism.”


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The Philanthropic Mind is Now Available!

Order your copy online today!

TPM_CoverThe Philanthropic Mind is based on dozens of candid interviews with Canada’s top philanthropists. It delivers a collection of inside stories and surprising insights that has never before been assembled. You will discover the real reasons behind some of the largest donations ever made in Canada, as well as eye-opening perspectives on giving and receiving and the people behind it.

The Philanthropic Mind is a rare opportunity to learn from and be inspired by Canada’s most generous individuals. Whether you are a professional within an organization, a board member, a volunteer, or a budding or seasoned philanthropist, you will find the thinking of these accomplished Canadians to be instructive, intriguing, possibly even validating, and almost certainly motivational.

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Why are we writing this book?

Philanthropy is the space in which the nonprofit and business worlds are often forced to find common ground. Yet, it doesn’t always work out that way – mostly because of very different expectations. The philanthropist who wants to use his resources to change the world is confronted by the nonprofit organization that just needs enough money to make payroll this month. The result is mutual disappointment. Out of compassion the philanthropist provides some support but remains unsatisfied. The organization gets less than it was looking for and leaves frustrated and still in need.

Our aim in conducting our research and writing this book was to enhance the enterprise of philanthropy by making those points of connection more productive. In particular, it occurred to us that if fundraisers and those who are engaged in the nonprofit world had a better understanding of the true interests and attitudes of philanthropists, they could be more selective and more focused in their approaches. We wanted to bring depth to the often one-dimensional view of the philanthropist as simply the source of much needed funds. So many times we have heard nonprofit professionals say, “If only Mr. X would write us a cheque, our problems would be solved.”

We sought to find out more about that infamous Mr. X. What are his passions, motivations, defining experiences, likes, dislikes, joys and challenges? It was obvious to us that the best source of information about philanthropists was, in fact, philanthropists themselves. To that end we conducted in-depth interviews with over 40 of Canada’s top philanthropists. While each interview was unique, we discovered three universal truths. First, each of the men and women we spoke with want to use their wealth to achieve a purpose higher than simply the accumulation of more wealth. That alone sets them apart. Second, givers want to give. Philanthropists want to be solicited – albeit with opportunities that match their interests. Finally we discovered that these people are passionate and thoughtful about philanthropy and took advantage of the rare opportunity to be frank in a setting where there is no money on the table.

Our interviews were comprehensive in most cases lasting more than 90 minutes. We asked all the questions we could think of without crossing the boundaries of appropriateness. We covered motivations, approaches, solicitations, expectations, relationships, decision-making, family and the next generation. Some of what we heard was astounding – even with our combined three decades of experience. We left most of our interviews trying desperately to debrief and process the sheer volume of what we had just heard. More than anything we were almost always inspired.

We hope that our findings will help fundraising professionals gain a much deeper understanding of the philanthropist. In addition, our interviews may provide the criteria for major gifts research that goes beyond giving history and an approximation of resources. We expect that the laypeople who devote their time to nonprofit organizations will likewise find value in knowing more about top givers. Likewise, we hope that those who are just starting on a path of philanthropic involvement will find the experiences and insights of these philanthropists to be instructive and motivational. Many of our interviewees are accomplished and well known Canadians. We believe that their stories and insights have the potential to be intriguing, interesting and inspirational to anyone in any walk of life who simply seeks to somehow make a difference.

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10 Surprising Major Gifts Discoveries

We’re really excited to be presenting ten of the most surprising and meaningful results of our research at the AFP Congress in Toronto on November 19. This is the first time we are  sharing anything from the research we have been conducting over the past year and a half. Our interviews with many of Canada’s top philanthropists revealed points of view and attitudes that could not possibly have been predicted. Those that attend the session will undoubtedly leave new with insights and perspectives that will make them better major gifts fundraisers.

Obviously there were many more than ten surprising discoveries and the truth is we had a hard time narrowing it down. While we will leave our top ten for the AFP session, we thought you appreciate hearing about those that didn’t make the cut. In the coming weeks, we’ll present you with the findings that round our top 20.

We look forward to sharing all of our research and insights when the book is published in the spring of 2013.

Now, back to preparing for that AFP Session….

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Philanthropic Personalities and Trends, July 13

While we are completing the manuscript of The Philanthropic Mind, we still keep our eyes fixed on what’s happening in the world of philanthropy. We are particularly attuned to stories that explore the lives, attitudes, opinions and accomplishments of philanthropists. Trends in philanthropic giving are also on our radar.

For those who share an interest in the enterprise of philanthropy, we thought we would share the best of what we have read. We hope you enjoy these.

1. An interview with Alexander Soros, son of George and a next generation philanthropist. From Alliance Magazine

2. Charles Bronfman’s views on philanthropy and the “edifice complex.” From the Globe & Mail.

3. Inspiring proof that you don’t have to be rich and famous to be a “hero of philanthropy.” From the Tapei Times.

4. Here’s a great way to get the next generation of philanthropists involved. From Forbes

Two views on whether Silicon Valley’s new titans of technology are as charitable as they should be
5. The positive approach from Wall Street Journal
6. And the approach that challenges from Non Profit Quarterly

7. In our interviews, cultural differences in attitudes to philanthropy were very apparent. Here’s an encouraging piece on the rise of high net worth philanthropy in India. From NDTV.

8. And finally, here’s an interesting trend – boomers are less likely to leave their wealth to their kids but more likely to bequeath it to charities. From Non Profit Quarterly

Hope you enjoyed these. We’ll be posting more in the weeks to come.

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A Philosophy of Giving

“We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.”

Douglas M. Lawson

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Five Definitions of Philanthropy and one Shocker

What is philanthropy?

Well, the Oxford dictionary will tell you that philanthropy is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”

But how do philanthropists define philanthropy? Our interviews with many of Canada’s top philanthropists have revealed a number of interesting and thought provoking responses. Here is a small sample.

Some of the responses were what we expected to hear.

  • Philanthropy is an obligation of the rich. If you have a lot of money you have the obligation to give back.
  • Philanthropy is giving money AND giving time.

Others revealed a more intellectual response.

  • Philanthropy is a partnership between the individual, institutions and government.
  • Philanthropy is a system of giving – a way of life – as opposed to a series of small charitable acts.

Some were brutally honest.

  • Philanthropy is work. It involves investing the time to give consideration to options and proposals and then making appropriate decisions.

And then there was one response that really made us take a step back.

  • Philanthropy is a status symbol. It’s another step into the higher profile demographic. It means you’ve hit success.

We had to consider whether this philanthropist was a flaming ego-maniac or simply a realist? At first it seemed crass, particularly juxtaposed with the humility of so many of those that we have interviewed. But it’s hard to deny that having your name on a building reflects a measure of wealth – which in our society is certainly equated with status.

There are other indications that this philanthropist may in fact be right.

The reality is that this century has seen giving become a more admirable value. In the past five years the Trendwatching organization has identified at least two consumer trends that are adding value to giving. In looking at spheres of status, they identified the Giving Sphere and said, “whether it’s giving away your riches, your time … giving is the new taking.” And in their report on what they call Generation G, they say “for many, sharing a passion and receiving recognition have replaced ‘taking’ as the new status symbol.”

The Gates/Buffett Giving Pledge and the rise of corporate philanthropy are indications of the same trends.

This small sample of responses certainly demonstrates that there is much to be learned from listening to what Canada’s philanthropists have to say. We look forward to telling you more.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you have to say. How do you define philanthropy?

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