by Michael Lowrey
Been awhile since I’ve read anything like this. Chris McLeod heads a group called Giving Matter Inc. In a opinion piece in the Charlotte Observer titled “To Charlotte’s biggest arts donors: Your tepid giving is not enough,” she calls out Charlotte’s biggest arts patrons and demands that they give more — a lot more — than they currently do. Sample quote:
You pretend to understand what it takes to build an extraordinary regional symphony, and yet rail against the union of musicians, argue about business models and focus on efficiency metrics, rather than imagine the long term impact of a strong regional symphony on the Charlotte community. You prefer to measure the ROI on your philanthropic capital quarterly than make big bets on the future. Your intermittent gifts of $100,000 fail to answer the question of viability and undermine the work of many talented leaders, prolonging the death march rather than making the needed game changing investments of $5 million and $10 million. Your preference for “lean and mean” leaves most nonprofits little choice but to run a marathon on 800 calories a day.
Okay, where to begin? Not sure why McLeod feels that private arts groups are somehow magically entitled to 50 or 100 times more money — or any money at all — from private donors. That’s not the way things work. I also question whether airing dirty laundry like this in public is the best means to achieve her goal; in fact I suspect it’s more likely to be counterproductive. Her argument that philanthropists shouldn’t focus so much on return on investment but just make big bets is also self defeating — philanthropists are savvy, and recognize that making big bets only make sense if you’re getting good enough odds of success to make, yes, a decent ROI.