BLOG > Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Stewardship

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Helping smaller nonprofits to increase their mission strength and capacity is a vital part of Boon's combination of strategic level philanthropy with long-term stewardship. In such organizations, voluntary action plays an exceptionally important part in their success. We think tapping into that relationship energy will be instrumental as we fund and support our national network of collaborating, independent, nonprofit teacher training centers in their work to provide Orton National Scholarships in explicit, structured literacy instruction. As commentators have said, even paid "teaching is a form of philanthropic activity — it is a gift from one generation to another."

Everyone knows and agrees that the monetary kind of philanthropic support charities receive in the United States is an extraordinary part of our democracy. Too often, though, the prevailing discussions about monetary support seems to merely describe how much is raised. With such a focus, one can easily overlook the personal interest and the voluntary work that many donors give in addition to their financial contribution. It fails to highlight the growing and enduring relationship between the cause and the donor.

Over $370 billion dollars is transferred from donors to charities in the United States. Alongside that generosity are the gifts of voluntary and stewardship-related hours, valued at over 50% of dollars contributed. That exchange of time to help a nonprofit depends upon the relationship fostered between a nonprofit's staff and its volunteers. Together, they work to add value, and together they share an extraordinary mutual commitment to reach a nonprofit's goals. As a team they all share in the satisfaction of services rendered.

"Fundraising" applies tried and true methods, which include red tripods holding pots with accompanying bell ringing at the holidays, card tables outside supermarkets offering appealing items in exchange for donations, direct-mail programs, and fundraising events. We read about professionally organized, limited duration fundraising campaigns for billions of dollars conducted by well-known universities, where orchestrated urgency is emphasized. We all are aware of the huge outpouring of fundraising activity following natural and humanitarian disasters. Then, of course, there are newer methods, such as ice bucket appeals and crowd funding, which rely on technology. All of this activity increases the rhetoric about dollars raised. We celebrate the success brought by these methods, because they offer our society millions of meaningful financial gifts and, in many cases, raise special public awareness about needs that have gone unmet. Perhaps a by-product of our own fundraising success reinforces our lack of attention to the positive intent expressed through voluntarism? Robert Payton, founder of the Center on Philanthropy wrote, “We make a mistake in measuring the scale and scope of philanthropy if we neglect or forget about the pervasive, character-shaping good works that are immediate, direct, or personal."

It is the quality and character of that relationship, building trust between volunteer and the charitable organization (paralleling financial supports) that are irreplaceable and integral to the nonprofit sector's ability to help others. "Service seems to more often lead to giving than the other way around - it is mutually reinforcing," and it significantly extends the impact of the monetary gifts by helping paid staff, networking in the community, and more. The interplay between voluntary hard work, in addition to financial gifts, and the reciprocal gratitude expressed by the charity are genuine factors in ensuring sustainability.

Boon's grant making is part of that dynamic mixture, for, when needed, we offer a similar level of human resources that we know will maximize the long term impact of a gift. Serving on a nonprofit board represents one of the highest forms of voluntarism. Directors or trustees give a charity responsible fiduciaries, influential major donors, and experts and professionals to assist staff leadership on a regular basis. In like manner, and in agreement with a grantee, Boon carefully shares more than funding through stewardship.

Every volunteer and contributor at every giving level makes a "grant". So if a strategic level grantmaker can additionally offer a specialized level of voluntarism, their stewardship can join in the same essential relations with all donors and the charity. Nonprofits are chronically under staffed, making an added argument for the benefits of time, talent, and treasure. Harold J. Seymour, the renowned fundraiser and author of Designs for Fundraising, who started his career at Harvard in 1919, often quoted Dr. Dorothea C. Leighton who said individuals "want to be worthwhile members of a worthwhile group". In this way, Boon is a part of America’s 81 million member volunteer community.

Henry Sinclair Sherrill
Boon Philanthropy