In my searches for bloggers who write consistently and intelligently on efforts to assist people in poverty, I have found relatively slim pickings so far. But Larry James, President and CEO of a community development corporation in Dallas called Central Dallas Ministries, is a welcome exception. He often provides great stories, timely comments, and well-chosen links all related to anti-poverty work. Today he commented on an article in the Wall Street Journal by Google V.P. Sheryl Sandberg, pointing out what a small proportion of U.S. philanthropy is actually directed to assisting people in poverty, which is far from what most people assume. Sandberg notes that large gifts by individual donors are often related to personal solicitations by fellow alumni, hospital physicians, museum trustees, etc., and most anti-poverty organizations don’t possess built-in relationships with high-net-worth individuals (and in many cases they don’t have much of an infrastructure at all for cultivating gifts from individuals). I come out of the arts fundraising world, where individual donors are the bastion, so I can second Sandberg about just how important those relationships can be.
I’d love to see the asset development field be at the forefront of a movement to develop significant numbers of individual donors supporting anti-poverty efforts in innovative ways, even if we’re not starting out with the same advantageous relationships that some other sectors have. Asset development programs put anti-poverty efforts in a light that is inherently compelling to donors who want to be sure they generate a long-term impact instead of just a short-term fix, and there are terrific stories and research about the outcomes, so I think the ingredients are there. But it will require some new approaches. I do have a few thoughts on how the asset development field can position itself for widespread support from individual donors, but that will have to wait for future posts (although I would welcome comments from readers in the meantime).